Armenian lawmakers elect former PM Sarkissian as new president

Armenian lawmakers elect former PM Sarkissian as new president

Armenia's parliament chose Armen Sarkissian as the country's new president on Friday by a large margin.

Sarkissian, 64, a former prime minister who once served as the country's ambassador to Britain, was elected to serve a seven-year term.

Sarkissian garnered 90 votes in the 105-seat legislature, succeeding President Serzh Sargsyan who seeks to extend his grip on power under a new system of governance once he steps down in April. The two men are not related.

Armenia, a South Caucasus country of around three million people, is in line with some other former Soviet republics and countries in eastern Europe in moving away from direct democracy, according to analysts.

Outgoing Sargsyan became president in 2008 and nominated former prime minister Sarkissian to succeed him in January.

Under the terms of a constitution approved in 2015 in a referendum that effectively abolished direct presidential elections, parliament can elect a president with a three-quarters majority.

The presidency is now meant to become largely ceremonial under the amended constitution and power to shift to the prime minister and parliament.

Opposition leaders accuse Sargsyan of planning to move into the post of prime minister to continue ruling Armenia.

Sargsyan denies having any such intention.

But many members of the ruling party say Sargsyan would be the best candidate for prime minister given his experience, especially in negotiations over neighboring Azerbaijan's breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Clashes over control of Nagorno-Karabakh, which lies inside Azerbaijan, have intensified in the past three years and there was a flare-up in violence there in April 2016.

Armenia seceded from the Soviet Union in 1991, but remains dependent on Russia for aid and investment. Many Armenians accuse the government of corruption and mishandling the economy.

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