Armenia's Power Struggle Peaking, as President Fires Prime Minister
The president suggested the move was designed to reestablish a balance of power between the executive and legislative branches of government that has been lacking since the October parliament shootings.
Armenian President Robert Kocharian sacked Prime Minister Aram Sarkisian on May 2. The president suggested the move was designed to reestablish a balance of power between the executive and legislative branches of government that has been lacking since the October parliament shootings.
The Armenian constitution requires that the entire government resign when a Prime Minister is removed from office. A major target of Kocharian's action, however, is the legislative branch, which initiated impeachment proceedings against the president on April 25.
"What is happening in our country is directly shaking the foundations of our state," Kocharian said in a statement that explained his actions.
Kocharian had vowed to take firm action to restore stability on April 28, after the opposition factions backed away from impeachment proceedings. The constitution states that a president can be removed from office only for "high treason" or "grave crimes." A two-thirds parliamentary majority and the approval of the Constitutional Court are required to impeach the president.
The two main parliamentary factions Miasnutiun and Kayunutiun control 80 of the legislature's 127 seats. According to local journalists, the factions had moved to detail various constitutional violations allegedly committed by the president. But by April 28, Andranik Makarian, the leader the Miasnuttiun, denied the existence of a list of charges.
Some analysts say Sarkisian became a target for dismissal because of a perception that he was taking the side of parliament in its battle against Kocharian. Before the impeachment decision, Sarkisian reportedly met with parliamentary leaders.
The investigation of the October 27 parliament shootings -- in which the late Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian, Aram's brother, and the former Parliament Speaker Karen Demirchian were killed sparked both the abortive impeachment attempt and Kocharian's retaliatory moves.
On April 20, Kocharian asserted that members of the military should not play a role in "political processes," and issued an order prohibiting Military Prosecutor Gagik Jahangirian from testifying before a legislative committee that was investigating the parliament shootings. MPs denounced the president's decision, claiming that Kocharian did not have the authority to bar the military prosecutor's testimony. Meanwhile, Jahangirian submitted his resignation, which the president refused to accept.
In seeking to oust the president, parliament leaders appeared to react impulsively to Kocharian's order. Almost immediately after initiating the impeachment process, deputies began to back peddle, realizing that not only did they lack the votes for impeachment, but also that Kocharian's actions would not be found by the Constitutional Court to meet the legal definition of an impeachable act.
Whether Kocharian can foster stability by reshuffling the government remains to be seen. Parliament's vision for Armenia's economic future appears to be diverging significantly from Kocharian's. For example, legislators voted April 25 to suspend energy-sector privatization projects that had enjoyed the president's support. Continued political gridlock would exacerbate already difficult socio-economic conditions in the country. [For background see Eurasia Insight Archives].
According to some local reports, Kocharian is considering emulating Russian President Vladimir Putin, who quickly created a political party, Unity, to serve as a power base for his policy agenda. Currently, Kocharian has no reliable base of support in parliament.
"The implementation of Putin's pattern in Armenia could mean that the creation of a presidential party makes the dissolution of the current parliament, and the formation of a new government, almost inevitable," said a commentary written in the newspaper Azg on April 29.
Mikhail Diloyan is a journalist based in Armenia. He is the executive director of the Yerevan Press Club.