Yerevan: Thousands of people in Armenia have been protesting for 10 days against ex-president Serzh Sarkisian taking up a new position as premier with sweeping powers, also denouncing corruption under his rule.
Here are four reasons why Armenians have taken to the streets.
A ‘power grab’
While the president cannot serve more than two terms, Serzh Sarkisian, the head of state since 2008, put forward a controversial reform in 2015 handing the main powers to the prime minister.
Sarkisian ended his final presidential term last week, before being nominated as premier by the ruling party.
Opposition supporters see this as a power grab by the former military man, who has held senior government positions since the country’s independence in 1991.
The key message behind the protests “is that people don’t want to let Sarkisian serve a third term and for the country to go down the Central Asian road,” analyst Ervand Boozoyan told AFP.
Until now, all presidents of an independent Armenia left power when their terms ended.
“The fact that the same person is in charge of the country for the third term in a row is unprecedented,” Boozoyan told AFP.
“All previous presidents left on time, but he promised to leave only when he finds himself a successor. Nobody knows what he will do in reality,” sociologist Gevorg Pogosyan told AFP.
Beyond Sarkisian’s efforts to extend his rule, protesters have accused him of failing to reduce poverty while giving oligarchs the upper hand in the economy.
The poverty rate in Armenia was 29.8 per cent in 2016 compared to 27.6 per cent in 2008, when Sarkisian became president, according to the World Bank.
“Many people have no work, they live in poverty,” said analyst Hakob Badalyan.
One protester, 26 year-old Karapet Ananyan, told AFP he was “very naive to think he would find a job” with his diploma from a prestigious economy school.
“I’ve been looking for a job for three years, everywhere I go they say there are no places. The authorities constantly promise to create work places without doing so,” Ananyan said.
The protesters also denounce rampant corruption in Armenia’s judicial system and the police, as well as the education system.
“Corruption and injustice is suffocating the country. If you want to open a small business, you need to bribe an official. Tax officers want bribes, teachers want presents. It is impossible to tolerate any more,” Mushef Hachatryan, a 52-year-old unemployed protester, told AFP.
“And who created this situation, who is responsible? Serzh Sarkisian, of course,” he added.
Badalyan, the analyst, highlighted that the protesters were from various social backgrounds.
“It is not only poor people but also those who have comfortable lives, who have a nice apartment and a car,” he said.
“This means they cannot tolerate this general atmosphere of injustice.”
No geopolitical factor
Serzh Sarkisian is seen as a pro-Russian politician but this has not been a factor in the demonstrations, unlike in Ukraine’s Maidan protest movement that forced out Moscow ally Viktor Yanukovich in 2014.
“I want to declare that there is no geopolitical context in this political process,” Nikol Pashinyan said last week.
“We are not directed by US interests, EU interests or Russia interests. The only thing we need to do is to serve the interests of Armenia.”