YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Armen Sarkissian, the man widely expected to become Armenia’s next president in April, acknowledged on Wednesday that many citizens are skeptical about his ability to achieve positive change in the country.
“There are different expectations,” he said of his ongoing meetings with Armenian politicians, business leaders, intellectuals as well as ordinary Armenians. “A large part of the public has an inertia thinking that that the president is someone who has a top-down vertical power and can answer all questions. There is also the other extreme, with people saying that the presidential powers are so modest that the president cannot do anything.”
“Part [of the public] says change is necessary and it will be good if you can change something within the bounds of your powers,” Sarkissian told reporters. “But there is also a large segment that doesn’t believe in change, regardless of who the president of the republic will be. And for me this is the most unfortunate phenomenon because change can occur only if the society or citizens feel like [real] citizens.”
“I do understand the reasons for that,” he said. “But I don’t think that is enough of a reason for people to think that nothing can be done.”
“The biggest challenge in our country is to ensure that people again have hopes and faith,” added the former scholar who had briefly served as Armenia’s prime minister and is currently its ambassador to Britain. He made clear that he believes economic and other improvements in the country can only be achieved “step by step.”
Sarkissian was offered by the outgoing President Serzh Sarkisian (no relation) last month to become the next head of state to be elected by the Armenian parliament on March 2. The former premier, who has lived in Britain for nearly three decades, said he will decide whether to accept the offer after holding consultations.
With Armenia switching to a parliamentary system of government, the next president of the republic will have few executive powers. Sarkissian has downplayed this fact in his public statements.
Sarkisian said on Wednesday that he will meet with the outgoing president and announce his decision “in the coming days.”
The presidential candidate made the comments during a visit to the Armenian subsidiary of the U.S. company Synopsis, one of the world’s leading microchip designers which employs hundreds of engineers in Armenia. Speaking to young Synopsis Armenia staff, he confirmed reports that he was one of the authors of Tetris, a world-famous video game designed in the Soviet Union in the 1980s. He presented them with a copy of Wordtris, a Tetris offshoot released in 1992.
A physicist and mathematician by education, Sarkissian worked at the Cambridge University before being first appointed as ambassador in London in 1991.