Serzh Sargsyan had been in power for the past decade in Armenia. He served twice as president, reaching the country’s term limit, and then stepped down on April 9 at the inauguration of his successor. In a healthy democracy, the peaceful transfer of power would have been the natural end of his career in the country’s highest position of leadership.
In this small former-Soviet state, however, the institutionalization of the government had proven itself vulnerable to the autocratic ambitions of a strong leader. That’s because a structural shift in 2015 demoted the role of the president to essentially just a national figurehead. The stripped powers and legislative authority were reassigned to the parliament and its appointed prime minister, delivering a strong blow to Armenia’s democratic integrity.
In 2014, when the campaign for these structural changes had been underway, Sargsyan had announced that he would “not aspire” to become prime minister if the new structure were to take effect. To the opposition, these words were a promise that he would respect the principles of his term limit and stay away from power thereafter. Yet just eight days after Sargsyan left the presidency, the Armenian Parliament voted 77 to 18, an overwhelming majority with no abstentions, to make him prime minister. Sargsyan was back in the country’s highest position of power.