The revolutionary government is counting on winning a majority in parliament, while the former ruling party remains a clear outsider. JAMnews answers questions about the upcoming elections
The first elections since the Armenian revolution are around the corner: on 9 December, the country will elect a new parliament. Eleven political forces – two blocs and nine parties – have their names on voting ballots.
Two blocs have put forward their candidacies:
- My Step – the head of which is the Acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan
- Menk [Arm. We]
and nine parties:
- Republican Party of Armenia (RPA, the former ruling party)
- Bright Armenia
- Prosperous Armenia
- Christian Democratic Revival Party
- Sasna Tsrer
- Country of Law (Orinats Yerkir)
- National Progress
- Social-Democratic Party
Only parties that overcome the five per cent threshold will make it into the National Assembly, while blocs will have to receive at least seven per cent of the vote.
Acting Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s former comrades-in-arms who entered the parliament with him in the last convocation of the parliament and were members of the Yelk faction, have gone their separate ways: this includes the Menk and Bright Armenia.
What was the campaign period like?
Virtually all political forces, with the exception of the former ruling Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) for whom the number one candidate on the list is former Defence Minister Vigen Sargsyan, held street rallies with potential voters. The RPA stated that they were holding rallies, but did not report any preliminary information about the place and time.
My Step’s voter rallies were rather lively: Pashinyan was on the campaign trail for two weeks and visited all the country’s regions. His campaign focused largely on the criticism of the former authorities’ policies.
Pashinyan was accompanied by his wife Anna Hakobyan, as well as other members of his team. While the leader of the revolution spoke in the regional areas, other candidates from his bloc did not lose time – they met with smaller groups of voters in the residential districts of Yerevan.
The epicentre of the election campaign for many political forces was the capital. Besides the My Step bloc, only Bright Armenia and Prosperous Armenia conducted active campaigns in regional areas.
What are the candidates offering?
Virtually all political forces running in the elections have made claims to make life easier for the people economically. There are promises to improve the investment climate and create new jobs. Pashinyan has already announced the launch of several factories for sugar, salt, soda, glass, textiles, elevators and televisions.
Prosperous Armenia is convinced that it can build an export-oriented economy. The leader of the party, oligarch Gagik Tsarukyan, promises to lower interest rates on loans, which, in his opinion, will lead to the development of small businesses.
Any changes in foreign policy?
The pro-Western parties are Sasna Tsrer, Bright Armenia and the Menk bloc. Sasna Tsrer has openly declared its intention to withdraw from the integration organisations initiated by Russia – the Eurasian Economic Union and the Collective Security Treaty Organization.
All other parties, including Pashinyan’s My Step bloc, intend to maintain the current vector of foreign policy. But at the same time, Mkhitar Hayrapetyan, Acting Minister of the Diaspora of Armenia and Pashinyan’s closest ally, describes the foreign policy of his bloc as “Armenia-centrist” and “Pro-Armenian”:
“Having come to power, the My Step bloc will pursue an exclusively pro-Armenian foreign policy. Relations with our foreign partners will be built on the basis of such a pro-Armenian policy: their pro-Russian or pro-Western orientation is of secondary importance.”
Hayrapetyan singles out Russia among their priorities, but he assured the public that this does not mean a refusal to move forward in other areas:
“It is extremely important for us to preserve and strengthen fraternal, friendly relations with Russia. On the other hand, the implementation of work within the framework of the European Agreement and the liberalisation of the visa agreement with the European Union is important. In addition, we attach great importance to relations with the United States, as well as the formation of economic relations with Iran and Georgia.”
According to former Defence Minister Vigen Sargsyan, the first candidate on the RPA list, the RPA, intends to continue the foreign policy of balancing interests:
“Our foreign policy did not proceed from a conflict of interests of major players on our market, but, on the contrary, lined up at the common ground of their interests. We believe that Armenia benefits from this. We stated and implemented into practice not an “or-or” policy, but an “and-and” policy. Were were able to make Armenia, on the one hand, a member of the Eurasian Economic Union, and on the other, a signatory to an agreement with the European Union. Armenia had excellent relations with the USA, China, the countries of the Middle East and Iran.”
Pashinyan said after the revolution that major changes in Armenia’s foreign policy should not be expected. Armenian observer Boris Navasardyan believes that the foreign policy vector has not really changed, but that the content of Armenia’s relations with other countries has changed:
“The RPA sought to strengthen Armenia’s security and give it at least some international weight. And the main means for this was ‘trade in sovereignty’ – that is, the authorities gave way to some geopolitical centres, and above all, to Russia, in order to get something in return.
“The new authorities also give great importance to relations with Russia, but the fundamental difference is that My Step is going to build its foreign policy relying on the principles of national sovereignty and the interests of the country, and does not plan to trade in sovereignty.”
However, such a policy cannot but complicate relations with Russia, at least from time to time, Navasardyan says.
The Karabakh conflict
Will the My Step bloc be able to intensify the negotiation process over the Karabakh issue and achieve progress?
In this regard, much will depend on the Azerbaijani side, states Mkhitar Hayrapetyan, an associate of Pashinyan:
“We support a peaceful settlement of the problem. However, we strive to involve Karabakh in the negotiation process as one of the parties to the conflict because we believe that the Karabakh Republic has its own power, and Nikol Pashinyan is not going to negotiate on behalf of Artsakh.”
The RPA declares that the Karabakh issue should be resolved within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group and on the basis of the principle of the right of people to self-determination.
Navasardyan believes one should not expect large changes on the Karabakh front. Certain progress may occur, but there will be no breakthrough.
“I don’t think Pashinyan will promote the idea of maintaining the status quo, which was typical of the previous government. But there will be no compromise in the absence of any readiness [to do so] on the part of Azerbaijan, nor will Armenia [compromise]. It’s difficult to expect changes in the rhetoric and behavior of Baku.”
The ongoing fight against corruption
Since coming to power, Pashinyan has declared an all-out fight against corruption. As a result of a series of high-profile corruption scandals involving parliamentarians and officials, the state budget has regained tens of millions of dollars.
“The main component of success in fighting corruption is the political will of the leadership. The prime minister and the government has it,” says Mkhitar Hayrapetyan.
However, Boris Navasardyan believes that institutional changes are needed in this area.
“If reforms pass, if cooperation with the European Union is strengthened, then we can expect really serious changes.”
The eternal question: what about migration?
According to the statistical service, since 1998 the population of Armenia has decreased by 360 thousand people, as people left en masse at the time. Earlier this year, Pashinyan promised that, for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union, a positive immigration rate would be established.
“The supremacy of the law, the protection of human rights and the economic revolution that we are going to implement – these steps will stop emigration,” Pashinyan said, expecting that even people who left 10-15 years ago will return to their homeland.
Favorites in the elections
Pashinyan’s bloc is considered the clear favorite in the upcoming elections. Both observers and even the party’s rivals are convinced that My Step will receive a parliamentary majority, while Pashinyan himself will become prime minister once again.
“There is no doubt about it, the only question is how many votes they will receive. I believe they can count on 70 per cent.
“There will be a serious fight for second and third place. There are no clear favourites. Bright Armenia and Prosperous Armenia have approximately equal chances. The Republican Party of Armenia and Menk may also join in the fight.
“The country’s legislation demands that there be a third party in parliament regardless of whether or not it crosses the electoral threshold. Therefore, there will be a very serious struggle for this place,” says Boris Navasardyan.
The likelihood of the RPA’s entrance into parliament, the party that made up the body’s majority in the last convocation, is not easy to assess. It is unclear whether it will recover from the shock after being essentially ousted from power in April this year.
However, they should not be underestimated – given their long tenure of power, they have many supporters who now believe that the new government does not have enough experience to ensure security and stability in the country.
With the support of Mediaset