Lawmakers elect a largely ceremonial president Armen Sarkissian who will succeed pro-Russia Serzh Sargsyan in April. The opposition says Sargsyan is seeking to increase power in a new capacity as premier.

Armen Sarkissian told the parliament he would put
Armen Sarkissian told the parliament he would put "all my efforts and my experience into the solution of national problems," on March 01, 2018. (AFP)

Armenian lawmakers on Friday elected a largely ceremonial president to succeed Serzh Sargsyan as he seeks to extend his grip on power under a new parliamentary system of government.

The political shift comes after incumbent president Sargsyan in 2015 initiated controversial constitutional amendments to turn the impoverished Moscow-allied country into a parliamentary republic with a powerful prime minister.

Opponents of the 63-year-old leader – whose second and final term in office ends in April 2018 – say the reforms have been designed to increase his power, albeit in a new capacity as premier.

The lawmakers voted for Armenia's ambassador to the United Kingdom, Armen Sarkissian, who is no relation to the country's leader.

Hand-picked by the president and nominated by the ruling Republican Party, the 64-year-old professor of physics briefly served as prime minister in the 1990s.

"If I'm elected, I will put all my efforts and my experience into the solution of national problems," Sarkissian told the parliament on Thursday (March 1).

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.

'Super prime minister'

"Everything is being done to hand over powers of the current president to a future prime minister. All of this is being done to create the office of a super prime minister," opposition lawmaker Edmon Marukyan said.

The new head of government – who will also serve as the nation's commander-in-chief – will be nominated by the ruling party and appointed by the president.

Elected by the National Assembly for a single term of seven years instead of the current five, the president will be expected to largely rubber stamp the prime-minister's decisions.

Sargsyan - who already served as premier in 2007-2008 – did not explicitly deny or confirm plans to become a prime minister again.

But in an interview with AFP last year, he vowed to "remain active" after leaving office and hinted that he would continue to influence Armenia's politics as leader of the Republican Party.

Source: AFP