Will upcoming elections in Armenia just be a repeat of the past?
Political discourse in Armenia has hardly changed amidst the upcoming June 20 elections, and the voters may end up having to again choose between the current and the former political authorities.
However, the early elections will only take place if the tensions in the country’s two border regions are address, as in case of escalation of the situation near the Armenia-Azerbaijan border, the government authorities might introduce martial law, meaning that the elections will be postponed.
Such a scenario is extremely undesirable for the current leadership of the country which is trying, in every possible way, to resolve the ongoing crisis at the border peacefully.
- CEC of Armenia approves changes to voting procedure
- From the dock to the elections: plans of the ex-President of Armenia Robert Kocharian
- PM Pashinyan: Azerbaijani Armed Forces’ aggression growing on Armenian borders
Election candidates and the balance of power
With only a month left before polling day, the pre-election picture is already clearly emerging and it is already obvious who the main competitors are.
The political platform of the acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s Civil Contract is still preparing its party lists, but it is already known that he himself will head them.
What are the chances that once indisputable authority and extremely popular leader of the Velvet Revolution will once again hold the office is a question that, perhaps, cannot be answered by either experts or opinion polls.
Public opinion polls are currently beign carried throughout Armenia, and according to them, about 27% of citizens are ready to vote for the party of the prime minister. This is the highest result among the country’s political forces. The second place is held by former President Robert Kocharian, who has only received 7%. However, there are several factors that are worth noting.
One of them is the fact that the polls were conducted before the official presentation of Robert Kocharian’s Hayastan (Armenia) bloc.
On top of that, the ratings of the current ruling force are influenced by the ongoing escalation at the order. The society believes that the authorities are not addressing the situation efficiently, having not achieved the complete withdrawal of the Azerbaijani military from the sovereign territory of Armenia. The main question that the people of Armenia have for their government is how the Azerbaijani servicemen managed to advance their positions without retaliation.
The situation at the border escalated after Armenia’s defeat in the second Karabakh war, which has already damaged the ratings of the ruling force and its leader. Thus, the longer the tension on the border lasts, the less chances Pashinyan and his political team have in the upcoming elections.
The main factor that, perhaps, most accurately reflects the political situation in Armenia is the fact that the recent polls show that about 40% of the country’s citizens have not yet decided who they are going to vote for, meaning that it is that portion of the society that is going make the final decision.
This time, the elections will be amidst widespread apathy, said political scientist Alexander Iskandaryan, who has been following the elections in Armenia for decades:
“The main support of the authorities is not the support itself, but rather the common apathy. The people who can help them win are those who will not want to vote at all, those who are tired and simply do not want to have another revolution break out. Therefore, the opposition has a difficult task of trying to get these people to vote”.
The opposition must not only convince those people to go to the polling stations but also convince them not to vote for Nikol Pashinyan.
This role will be mainly assumed by the second president of Armenia, Robert Kocharian, who will participate in the elections as part of the bloc which consists of the country’s oldest ARF Dashnaktsutyun party, and the recently created Reviving Armenia.
Kocharian has already held a rally of many thousands, which was aimed at showing all those skeptical the real strength of the alliance which he leads.
Another ex-president, Serzh Sargsyan, will also take part in the elections. Unlike Kocharian, Sargsyan declares that he no longer intends to occupy high government positions and he will not be included on the I Have The Honor bloc lists either although Sargsyan presented this political force. What this means is that, to one degree or another, the former president will still participate in the pre-election campaign.
Sargsyan’s Republican Party will join the elections along with Nikol Pashinyan’s former ally, former head of the national security service of Armenia, Artur Vanetsyan. After his resignation, Vanetsyan entered politics and is known for vehemently criticizing the ruling power.
The parliamentary opposition will also take part in the elections. The Prosperous Armenia party founded by one of the richest people in Armenia Gagik Tsarukyan will be competing alone and the party list will be headed by the oligarch himself. The leader of another opposition force, represented in parliament by the Enlightened Armenia faction, Edmon Marukyan will also be the first on his party’s list.
These are the main competitors in the upcoming electoral race, and the current authorities are clearly counting a complete victory, perhaps even in the first round.
Political scientist Alexander Iskandaryan does not exclude such a possibility:
“Without a doubt, they have a chance to start over. If this were not the case, they would not have called early elections. Opinion polls show that the ruling power now enjoys approximately 30% of public support. With a low turnout, and it will be low, this 30% can turn into 40% and, by using its administrative resources ( and they always use them), they can easily turn it into 50%.
Therefore, I can even imagine them winning in the first round. This is precisely why they are holding the elections right now. If the elections were held, as usual, that is, in three years, I very much doubt that they would have stood a chance at winning them”.
What are the main trends of the pre-election campaigns?
The pre-election campaign in Armenia has not yet started officially, but this does not prevent anyone from campaigning. The process actually began with the regional trips of the acting prime minister himself, who began to harshly criticize his predecessor.
Despite being in office for three years reign of his power, Pashinyan still blames his predecessors for all large-scale issues that the country is faced with.
A common thread in his campaigning is one that states that it was impossible to put everything in order during his time in power, and the government, amidst the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, simply did not have time to prepare for war:
“Robert Kocharian and Serzh Sargsyan, you are traitors of the <otherland! We fought your betrayal, and you continued betraying us even during the war”.
The pre-election slogan of the ruling party talks about the future: “There is a future.”
In turn, the oppositionists prefer not to talk about the future, but insist that it should not include Pashinyan.
Robert Kocharian talks about a management crisis that has led to disastrous results in all spheres. The ex-president openly accuses Pashinyan of betrayal during the second Karabakh war and convinces citizens that his further rule will lead to even more serious problems and a possible loss of statehood.
However, Kacharyan does not specify how he tends to deal with the ongoing crisis. The politician simply talks about his anti-crisis experience and emphasizes his past achievements. However, a sizeable portion of the country’s population associates his rule with corruption, police lawlessness, as well as the dispersal of a demonstration in March 2008, when 10 people were killed.
As a result, the rhetoric of hatred from all competitors persists. Everyone criticizes the authorities, and the authorities criticize the former government. Apparently, no one is interested in real programs and proposals for overcoming the crisis.
Political scientist Alexander Iskandaryan draws an analogy with previous years:
“The type of agitation that we see among the opposition forces now is similar to the agitation of the current government during the revolution. It is negative. The opposition says that Nikol Pashinyan and his government do not manage the country well and that they have lost the war, and should, therefore, be removed. Then each person’s light bulb comes on and a question arises. Okay, we’ll take them out. But what’s next? Will Azerbaijanis leave? Will these territories be given back to us? Will the Russians fly away to their home?”
Will the crisis end after the elections?
The decision of the Armenian authorities to go to the elections is an attempt to put an end to the post-war political crisis. The opposition declared it unprecedented. But even in this situation, almost two dozen united opposition parties were unable to mobilize significant masses to protest and achieve the resignation of the authorities.
The issue of establishing political stability remains. Opposition forces unanimously declare that Nikol Pashinyan will falsify the election results. That is, the ground is already being prepared for post-election protests.
Alexander Iskandaryan believes that the elections will not be able to solve a crisis of such a scale:
“The election results can provide bureaucratic legitimacy. That is, it will be possible to wave the election results in front of an external audience – “here’s legitimacy, we got it after the war, the people are supporting us”.
But social legitimacy cannot be obtained in this way. We have already experienced something similar in Armenia, back in 2017. Elections were held, people voted for the GOP. Nobody talked about falsification seriously. But six months later, the same people joined the revolution. It will be more or less the same this time, and there is no doubt that political turbulence will continue”.
In Armenia, many hoped for the emergence of an alternative political force, unrelated to either the current or the former governments. A force that could resolve the political crisis and the existential challenges facing the country. However, it did not emerge.
It is clear that Pashinyan or Kocharyan are more likely to claim victory in the elections. Armenian people have many questions for both, to which, however, it is unlikely that they will receive any answers.