YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) — Armenia’s president resigned Tuesday, saying he could no longer govern his divided country and had decided to quit before he was overthrown.
Levon Ter-Petrosian’s resignation followed the mass defections of members of his party in parliament. New presidential elections are expected in 40 days.
Politics in Armenia has been dominated by disputes over the ethnic enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, but Ter-Petrosian said that was “only a pretex” for political infighting in the former Soviet republic.
The real conflict, he said in a televised resignation speech, was “much deeper and goes to the heart of our constitutional government.” He did not specify what the constitutional crisis was.
Ter-Petrosian said there was no single reason for his decision, but mentioned his defeats over Nagorno-Karabakh. He said he feared being driven from office, and decided to resign instead.
“This is a temporary setback for Armenia,” Ter-Petrosian said. “One way or another, sooner or later, our party will find its way.”
Ter-Petrosian, a dissident during Soviet times, was elected president in 1991 in Armenia’s first presidential election. He was re-elected by a narrow majority to a second term in September 1996, which sparked opposition demonstrations in the capital, Yerevan.
Ter-Petrosian’s coalition in parliament lost 42 of 96 deputies on Monday in a mutiny to the opposition. Foreign Minister Alexander Arzumanian has also resigned.
The opposition coalition is led by Defense Minister Vazgen Sarkisian, who supports immediate independence for Nagorno-Karabakh, a mostly Armenian enclave of Azerbaijan. Ter-Petrosian has supported a gradual approach to resolving the dispute. Arzumanian shared this viewpoint.
Nagorno-Karabakh declared independence in 1988. After several years of fighting, the Karabakh rebels drove Azerbaijani armed forces out of the mountainous enclave and seized a large swath of land in Azerbaijan proper.
A truce signed in 1994 ended the war, which killed some 25,000 people, but efforts toward a political settlement between the two former Soviet republics have not been suc