The Armenian parliament has elected opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan as the country’s new prime minister, after an outpouring of populist anger against the ruling elite in the former Soviet republic. Thousands of Pashinyan’s supporters, who had gathered in a central square in the capital, Yerevan, to watch the vote on large screens, erupted into cheers when the result was announced.
Pashinyan’s victory amounts to a peaceful revolution in Armenia, a small nation of around 3 million people squeezed between Iran, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia. It marks a dramatic split from a corps of leaders who have run the country since the late 1990s, developing a reputation for corruption and cronyism.
The tipping point came two weeks ago when veteran leader Serzh Sargsyan, who had served the maximum two terms as president, was appointed prime minister — complete with new powers conferred by a controversial referendum he had supported. Many Armenians regarded the job swap as a brazen attempt to maintain his grip on power.
Pashinyan, a former journalist and leader of the opposition Civil Contract party, put himself at the front of the protest movement as thousands of people took to the streets in Yerevan. With his black cap, camouflage T-shirt and bandaged hand — reportedly injured on barbed wire — he cut a rebellious figure, contrasting sharply with the suited Sargsyan.