Tens of thousands of people joined nationwide protests in Armenia, blocking roads and government buildings after the parliament failed to elect opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan as the country’s interim prime minister.
Protesters on Wednesday paralysed the capital Yerevan by blocking some routes into the capital and the road to the airport. Demonstrators marched through the streets shouting “Nikol! Victory!” waving flags and blowing horns.
The ruling Republican Party voted against Pashinyan during a special parliamentary session on Tuesday, deepening a political crisis after two weeks of anti-government protests that forced the prime minister to resign.
Speaking to Al Jazeera from Yerevan, Nikol Pashinyan said “the movement, the revolution will win and it is just a matter of time”.
“We are doing this to show that the Republican Party has has no power left in Armenia. There’s no Armenia for the Republican Party to govern,” he said.
“After yesterday’s event in the parliament, the circle of our supporters became larger and today’s scale of civil disobedience is much bigger than two days ago.”
Pashinyan, a 42-year-old former journalist known for wearing camoflouge T-shirts, spent two years in jail for fomenting unrest after an election in 2008.
“Now people are not fighting for me. Everyone is fighting and standing up for their own dignity, their own family, their rights, their future and the future of their children,” he said.
Following Tuesday’s vote, Pashinyan called for a nationwide peaceful campaign of civil disobedience.
A sector-wide strike was also announced with airport staff, construction workers, medical staff, university students and professors joining the protests.
There are also reports of regional government offices in Armenia’s second-largest city of Gyumri being blockaded.
The speaker of parliament, Ara Babloyan, said protesters had besieged some lawmakers inside their apartments.
Local media reported that protesters were opening the roads for ambulances, police and the military to not harm the security of the people and the country.
Pashinyan said the airport blockade would be lifted later on Wednesday.
“The crisis here has gone up a notch, it’s deepening and it’s changing,” said Al Jazeera’s Robin Forestier-Walker, reporting from Yerevan.
“We’re at the stage where it’s difficult to predict how this may go because the opposition has said it is going to remain peaceful.”
Stepan Sargsyan, a youth protester, told Al Jazeera he believes that “sooner or later, the Republican Party will understand that the power belongs to the people and this is what the people want and they will understand and acknowledge the fact that they have to elect Pashinyan as prime minister”.
‘Insult to people’
Pashinyan was the sole candidate in Tuesday’s parliamentary vote but could not secure the necessary support of 53 legislators.
Legislators voted 45 in favour to 55 against, with the ruling Republican Party rejecting Pashinyan’s candidacy during the hours-long extraordinary session in parliament.
Pashinyan, who led the protests that forced Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan to resign last week, said the ruling Republican Party’s decision not to back his candidacy was an “insult to the people”.
His backers on the streets on Wednesday said the ruling elite had lost popular support and should now step aside.
“We won’t allow the government to ignore us,” said Mariam Abajyan, a 27-year-old unemployed woman protesting in Yerevan.
“We will paralyse the whole city and the whole country,” said Sargis Babayan, a 22-year-old student.
Not all Armenians back the protests. Some see Pashinyan as a demagogue trying to oust democratically elected leaders by whipping up public anger.
“The country can’t exist like this. I couldn’t get to work today and called in to say that I wouldn’t come,” said Zhanna Petrosyan, a 56-year-old doctor.
Another attempt to elect a new prime minister is due on May 8, the parliamentary press service said. If parliament fails a second time, the constitution requires early parliamentary elections to be held.