Collusion or split – what's happening between the Armenian PM & president?
Tense relations between Armenian PM Pashinyan and President Sargsyan have only aggravated the political crisis in the country which erupted following the loss of territories in Karabakh at the end of 2020.
Armenian President Sargsyan has asked PM Pashinyan on multiple occasions to consider resignation as a way to resolve the crisis; the latter has refused.
The most recent stand-off between the two leaders took place following a demand from the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Armenia that Pashinyan resign, given that ‘[he] and [his] government are unable to govern the country in crisis situations.’
In response, PM Pashinyan launched a procedure to have the head of the General Staff dismissed, calling the statement ‘an attempted coup.’ President Armen Sargsyan has now refused to put his signature on the document twice.
However, the decision can still come into force without the president’s signature, and some amongst the opposition say the issue of the president’s signature of the dismissal order may be a charade.
The opposition now says the government intends to include the General Staff into the Ministry of Defense and thus resolve the crisis that has arisen in the Armed Forces.
Meanwhile, political analysts do not rule out that the prime minister himself may be forced to resign if he fails to resolve the situation and the intensity of protests continues to grow.
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History of the conflict between the prime minister and the president
President Armen Sargsyan first returned the prime minister’s proposal without his signature and with objections on February 27.
The press service of the president reported at the time that the draft decree had been studied by lawyers and experts who said it contradicted the constitution of Armenia:
“The president does not take the side of any political force. He made the decision, guided exclusively by state and national interests. Undoubtedly, the Armed Forces must remain neutral on political issues.”
On the same day, the prime minister re-sent to the president a petition to dismiss the Chief of the General Staff of the Armenian Armed Forces Onik Gasparyan.
Speaking to his supporters at a recent rally, Pashinyan said that the president’s refusal to sign the decree would mean that he supported the coup.
However, on March 2, the president not only returned the unsigned document, but also sent a statement to the Constitutional Court, in which he asks to consider the constitutionality of the amendments to the law “On military service and the status of servicemen.” This is a law regulating, in particular, the grounds for dismissing military personnel from office.
Is there a secret agreement between the president and the prime minister?
“According to the information I have, Armen Sargsyan and Nikol Pashinyan agreed to implement Pashinyan’s desire to release Onik Gasparyan from the post of Chief of the General Staff through legal casuistry,” lawyer Artur Kazinyan, leader of the United Armenia opposition party, wrote on his Facebook page.
He emphasizes that the president has appealed to the Constitutional Court not to determine the constitutionality of the Prime Minister’s petition, but with a demand to challenge the constitutionality of the bill on amendments and additions to the Law on Military Service and the Status of Servicemen:
“This means that the decision of the Prime Minister to dismiss Onik Gasparyan from his post will come into legal force, and Gasparyan will legally cease to be the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces.”
Expert on constitutional law Aram Vardevanyan explained on his Facebook page that the decision to dismiss the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces Colonel General Onik Gasparyan from his post may come into force until March 4.
At the same time, he emphasizes that this will happen despite problems with constitutionality, as indicated by the president in his first refusal to sign the dismissal order.
The head of the opposition Bright Armenia party Edmon Marukyan said that the Armenian authorities are going to include the General Staff in the Ministry of Defense and thus resolve the crisis between the government and the Armed Forces.
The authorities have not yet reported on such a bill.
Marukyan argues that such changes fundamentally alter the system of state administration, since the current functions of the General Staff and the Ministry of Defense are separate. And therefore, according to the oppositionist, such a decision should be made only following the results of a referendum.
Will Pashinyan resign himself?
“What is happening now is the emergence of an elite split, a split between the political and military leadership,” says Alexander Iskandaryan, director of the Caucasus Institute, political scientist.
According to him, it is a rare occurrence for all the generals to demand the resignation of the prime minister and, in fact, the entire government, which was the impetus for the activation of the protest movement:
“The positions of Pashinyan and the opposition continue to diverge, the only issue that [the opposition] considers possible to discuss with the prime minister is the issue of his resignation.”
Iskandaryan does not exclude that in the end Pashinyan will be forced to resign himself, although he retains “a relatively wide level of public support.”
“Therefore, the development of the situation will depend on the intensity of the protests and the possibility of their expansion,” the political scientist believes.