Nikol Pashinyan: The Lion at the Gate


The last few days leading to the fateful stage of May 1, Armenia’s political situation may best be described as being on a rollercoaster, with its dynamic changes every day and every moment.

The “citizen’s contract” political movement leader Nikol Pashinyan was able to mobilize Armenia’s youth during his three-week march and rallies to topple the newly-elected Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan and shake up the ruling Republican Party.

In the immediate aftermath of the prime minister’s resignation, the impression was created that the government had collapsed and a political vacuum had been created to be filled right away by the “people’s candidate,” Nikol Pashinyan. The latter was performing his political moves very transparently to please his followers. He had confronted Sargsyan at the Marriott Hotel during their three-minute, unsuccessful meeting, which eventually led to the latter’s resignation. He tried to use the same strategy with Sargsyan’s successor, deputy Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan, who had succeeded the premier in the capacity of a caretaker acting prime minister and invited him again to the Marriott Hotel in full view of journalists to witness the transfer of power.

He had handpicked the representatives he wanted to accompany Karapetyan to the meeting.

Armenia’s constitution calls for the parliament to choose within seven days a new prime minister, following the resignation of the incumbent.

Karapetyan, realizing that he still had a legal tool in his hand to stall the election for a few days more, refused to show up to the meeting.

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On the other hand, Pashinyan, who had forced his way into Armenia’s political scene, found out that he had to validate his popular mandate through constitutional channels, meaning he needed to show up at the parliamentary session for a vote.

These few days gave some breathing space to the Republican Party to regroup. Serzh Sargsyan, concerned that surrender of his party’s rule could shatter his entire constituency, returned to the chairmanship of his party and literally tried to resuscitate it.

To be elected prime minister, Pashinyan needs 53 votes. Combined votes of the Tsarukyan (31), Yelk (9) and ARF (7) factions amount to 47 votes, just short of the required number.

Pashinyan found out that he had no other way but to lure votes from the Republicans or woo the entire leadership of the Republican Party to support his candidacy for the post of prime minister.

He took a chance to approach the leadership of the Republicans and attend a full session of the party for hearings. He dared to enter the lion’s den, where the party members were armed with loaded questions. A transformed rabble rouser appeared at the session, with his fatigues exchanged for a suit, but best of all, his street rally rhetoric completely toned down to the language of a courteous, articulate and moderate diplomat. He was very conciliatory in answering pointed questions. Those questions mostly dealt with Russia-Armenia relations because as an opposition leader in the parliament, he was on the record voting against the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union and he was also critical of Russian military bases in Armenia. The subtext of the entire encounter was to test how unshaken the Russian-Armenian relationship would remain in a Pashinyan administration.

Most of the time, Pashinyan gave generic answers which would give him room to maneuver after taking over. His was mostly a charm offensive continuously underlining the peaceful nature of the “Velvet Revolution,” which would not result, in the end, in winners and losers, but instead, with the restoration of trust and cooperation between all the parties.

No matter how much Pashinyan reassures the public that the “Velvet Revolution” was motivated by domestic issues and has a purely Armenian character, the major powers have their own perspectives.

For them, Armenia is another piece on a chessboard of world politics and is treated as such. That is why Moscow was seriously concerned with the outcome of the movement. Although Kremlin observed a strictly neutral position, the pro-Kremlin media were mostly very critical of the popular movement. That is why waves of parliamentary delegations arrived from Moscow. The first group was mostly intimidating but the second delegation was more accommodating.

Not only Moscow was concerned with the movement; in the Western media the depictions of this movement demonstrate international political overtones.

Writing in a piece titled “American Empire Exposed,” Joachim Hagopian notes: “At first glance, it appears as through civil society and democracy have triumphantly prevailed in Armenia over the despotic cronyism and corruption. Yet, a deeper analysis might characterize recent events as a geopolitical info war being covertly fought on the global chessboard between both western and eastern forces.”

Another writer, Pietro A. Shakarian, in an article published in the Nation states, “Analysts outside Armenia scrambled to make sense of the April Revolution. Was it a ‘color revolution’ or a Ukrainian-style maydan? Was it a ‘blow to Putin’ as the pages of the Washington Post suggested? The revolt did have certain elements that were recognizable in ‘color revolutions’ — the street demonstration, the involvement of the youth, etc.”

As far as Armenia’s foreign policy is concerned, Pashinyan has pledged to stay the course.

During the recent developments, the newly-elected President Armen Sarkisian has played a constructive role behind the scenes within the limited scope the constitution has provided him. He has helped bring opposing parties together, always projecting a higher and nobler cause than current politics. He has also brought the Echmiadzin Catholicos into the fold, despite the fact that among the opposition groups, he was perceived as being a member of the ruling hierarchy.

Whatever is in store for the future, the political landscape in Armenia has been changed forever. The youth have tasted the outcome of their power and they are already engaged in achieving change.

The decisive moment on May 1 came and went. After lengthy speeches at the parliament, a vote was taken. Throughout the process, no one could have predicted the outcome of the vote, because the situation was and still is so fluid. Many theories were floated. The vote achieved the following result: 45 votes for Pashinyan and 56 against, which sends Pashinyan back to the streets.

The constitution allows a second chance for a vote within seven days. If there is no concrete outcome, then parliament automatically will be dissolved and snap elections will take place.

Time is certainly moving against Pashinyan, as his popular movement may lose some momentum and his strategy of forcing a vote through mob action may be undermined.

On the other hand, an early election does not favor the Republican Party, which has lost face and the result may still be a landslide victory for Pashinyan.

Thus far, he is a lion at the gate of the parliament and much depends on how civil his civil disobedience movement can continue to be.

Thousands of demonstrating youth are impatient to see quick dividends as the foreign officers in major capitals are counting votes and comparing strategies behind closed doors.

At this point, the political standoff continues.

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