Armenian president picks longstanding ambassador to UK as intended successor

By bne IntelliNews January 22, 2018

Armenia's president, Serzh Sarksyan, on January 19 publicly proposed that Armen Sarkissian, a former prime minister and the country's current ambassador to the UK, run for president on behalf of the ruling Republican Party in the March presidential election.

Armenia amended its constitution in 2016, following a countrywide referendum in December 2015, in which the majority of voters agreed to eliminate many of the president's current responsibilities. Thus, the country is set to transition from a semi-presidential to a parliamentary republic, in which the head of state is appointed by the parliament and will hold a largely ceremonial role.

Many voiced criticism of Sarksyan's choice, accusing him of seeking the role of prime minister, which will become the most powerful executive office in the country after the March election. By pursuing Sarkissian's nomination, he is merely seeking to appoint an ally as president as well, they contend.

Sarkissian himself has said that the nomination would be an honour and that he would make a decision after consulting with other political leaders. He is known as a progressive businessman, political independent and long-serving ambassador to the UK and Brussels, who has promoted human rights, free trade, good governance and the rule of law in various international fora, like the Global Leadership Foundation. Over time, he has lobbied successfully for British companies, like Lydian International, in Armenia and has accompanied Prince Charles on several visits to Yerevan.

His family's trust, registered in the UK as Knightsbridge Group, operates in various sectors in the South Caucasus and Central Asia.

His previous stint as prime minister, between November 1996 and February 1997, was short-lived and allegedly ended because of clashes with the then-defence minister, Vazgen Sargsyan. During his short tenure, he promoted foreign investment in Armenia, seeking to attract multinationals to set up offices in Yerevan.

In order for Sarkissian to be elected, he would need the votes of three quarters of the 105 MPs, and would go on to serve for one, seven-year, term. 

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