Why is Armenia engulfed in a political crisis? What changes can we expect? Do the counter-revolutionary forces have any chance of retaining power?
October has marked the beginning of a new political crisis in Armenia.
Two camps are butting heads: the new PM Nikol Pashinyan and the parliament, the majority of which is made up of MPs from the former ruling party.
The country’s parliament passed a bill on 2 October excluding the possibility of holding early parliamentary elections.
In response, Pashinyan brought out thousands of his supporters and surrounded the National Assembly.
The situation on the ground was defused after a three-hour long negotiation with the PM and the parliament. Pashinyan later came out to those gathered in front of the parliament and informed them that the elections will take place in the first half of December.
However, representatives of the old guard says that no agreements were made, and the talks in parliament were just discussions.
Armenian pundits sound off on the crisis, what changes can be expected, and whether or not there is any possibility that the old guard might retain power.
Many pundits have characterised the current political situation in Armenia as a crisis.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan came to power as the result of the Velvet Revolution in spring 2018.
While he was able to form a cabinet of ministers with his supporters, he does not have the parliament’s support to implement his government programme because his political bloc does not have a majority.
The majority of MPs in the Armenian National Assembly are members of the former ruling Republican Party and can put the brakes on the decisions of the new government.
To deal with this issue and emboldened by recent elections to the capital’s Council of Elders, Pashinyan recently called for early parliamentary elections to be held in December, moving up the original proposed date of sometime before May 2019.
After the news broke about early parliamentary elections on 2 October, Republican Party MPs held a special parliamentary session during which they passed a bill which will make it more difficult to change the composition of the parliament: the bill stipulates that parliamentary elections cannot take place if the prime minister has recently changed.
Only three of the four parliamentary political groups participated in the vote as Pashinyan’s Yelk [Arm. exit] faction abstained.
Tsarukyan and Dashnaktsutyun voted for the bill and, as Pashinyan said, in doing so, joined the counter-revolution.
Armenian experts say that this process is a part of the transference of power in the country, and that early parliamentary elections are inevitable.
Political scientist Aleksandr Iskandaryan says that a run-in between Pashinyan and the opposition was expected:
“It is very difficult to imagine cooperation between the executive and administrative authorities with the people who are currently represented in the parliament over the course of the next four years. Something had to happen. Earlier rather than later, but it could have been expected. This is all within the boundary of the law.”
Political observer Stepan Grigoryan says that the event is a continuation of the revolution which has still not come to an end:
“It will end only after elections to the National Assembly, when not only the government will be renewed, but the parliament as well. And thus the political crisis continues in Armenia.”
Why did MPs come out against early parliamentary elections?
Grigoryan says that the deepening political crisis is a result of the former ruling party’s attempt to extend its “political life”.
As for the other political groups which supported the bill, these forces also felt threatened after the recent [Council of Elders] elections.
The results of the Council of Elders elections showed that the majority of Yerevan residents support the new PM and his team. More than 80 per cent of voters showed support for Pashinyan’s My Step bloc.
“Fair elections have taken place for the first time in 20 years, when there were no mass falsifications, no pressure from the authorities on the voting system. Other political groups did not receive the results they were expecting, and realised they might not even make it into parliament. For that reason, they decided to come out against early parliamentary elections,” Grigoryan says.
Iskandaryan believes that the current factions in the National Assembly will not retain their current numbers if they go to the polls.
“The Dashnaks don’t even have electoral resources. I have reason to believe that they won’t even make it into parliament. Prosperous Armenia also knows that it won’t have the same number of spots in parliament after new elections, even if they get in. That is, they won’t be able to hold onto their current political role.”
Iskandaryan also says that these political forces want to hold on to power for a while to see if Pashinyan’s ratings fall.
Why does Pashinyan want to hold elections in December?
Pashinyan bases his call for early parliamentary elections on an economic argument: investors want stability, he says, and they will not invest in the Armenian economy before elections.
Grigoryan believes this conclusion is justifiable:
“Investors and donors are waiting for the revolution to end. Without a new parliament, nobody will decide to invest in the economy. The rules of the game must be understood by all.”
Iskandaryan meanwhile says that the economic argument is just a cover for the real one: to achieve full power.
“People do not surround parliaments, nor do they call for early parliamentary elections for the sake of investors. They do it for power.”
Grigoryan put forward another political argument: the current parliament is illegitimate and does not reflect the will of the nation:
“Many MPs say that the public is pressuring them. This is a sign of absolute [political] illiteracy – an MP is after all a representative of the people. Moreover, there are serious questions as to the legitimacy of the current parliament because these MPs do not take their responsibility seriously, nor their obligations to the people.
“Nobody came out to speak to the public last night … This means that they do not represent the people. They are not legitimate.”
What is Pashinyan’s main weapon?
Pashinyan hopes that the public will show support for him. The events of 2 October show that this hope is not unfounded.
Iskandaryan agrees that Pashinyan’s most effective weapon right now is his high approval rating:
“Nikol Pashinyan has the political determination and the support of the public. This support was tested at the Council of Elders elections. These elections were something of a public survey. This is the peak of Pashinyan’s popularity. Of course, he probably won’t achieve such ratings again. And to not use the current resource [the support of the public] would be a sin.”