Nikol Pashinyan, the Armenian opposition leader, has called for a nationwide campaign of civil disobedience after failing to be elected prime minister.
The 42-year-old was the sole candidate in Tuesday’s parliamentary vote but could not secure the necessary support of 53 legislators amid a deepening political crisis following two weeks of anti-government protests.
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”.
He was greeted by a jubilant crowd of tens of thousands in central Yerevan, the capital, after losing the vote.
Pashinyan said that starting on Wednesday morning, his supporters would launch a general strike and block roads, railways stations and airports. He said the protest would be peaceful, and called on police to put down their shields and join his movement.
Legislators voted 45 in favour to 55 against, with the ruling Republican Party rejecting Pashinyan’s candidacy during a day-long extraordinary session in parliament.
Syuzanna Petrosyan, from the USC Institute of Armenian Studies, told Al Jazeera the constitution provides a seven-day period to vote again on a new leader, otherwise parliament will be dissolved and new elections must be held.
Pashinyan had secured the support of all opposition factions in the parliament but needed votes from members of the ruling coalition to obtain a majority vote.
“Mr Pashinyan, you’re a good parliament member, but not qualified for prime minister,” Arman Saghatelyan, a member of the Republican Party of Armenia, said in his speech to parliament.
Ahead of the session, Pashinyan urged supporters to take to the streets on Tuesday to pressure parliament to choose him as prime minister and warned the ruling elite about the consequences of clinging to power.
“You would think that in the situation that has unfolded conclusions would have been drawn, but the Republican Party has started to play cat-and-mouse with the people,” said Pashinyan, who swapped his usual camouflage T-shirt for a suit and tie.
Addressing Republican Party officials, he warned: “Your behaviour – treating the tolerance of the people as a weakness – could become the cause of a tsunami.”
Between 30,000 and 40,000 people gathered at Republic Square in Yerevan to follow the parliamentary session on large television screens.
“They spat on us but we’re not going to tolerate this,” bakery owner Samvel Rustamyan, 46, said, jeering and punching the air with his fists. “This government just won’t resign on its own will. It’s tens of thousands of us, and we need to them go. We can’t take this any more.”
Petrosyan said Pashinyan portrays himself as a man of the people who has pledged to implement the political, social, and economic reforms that they desire and change electoral codes to ensure free and fair parliamentary elections.
“There’s been so much distrust of the government for decades in the country. He’s saying the people have spoken, the streets have spoken, there’s a new authority now in the country – and the authority belongs to the people. He’s the people’s candidate for prime minister,” she said.
Sargsyan became prime minister on April 17, after a decade as president, in what was seen by opponents as a power grab. The mass demonstrations began soon after, spearheaded by Pashinyan.