Armenia Enters Uncharted Course of Democracy

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By Edmond Y. Azadian

Armenia’s political reformation course, which was halted for a short period to accommodate the convocation of the Francophonie conference, is to resume with the resignation of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan on October 16.

Incidentally, the 58-nation member Francophone summit, headed by France’s President Emmanuel Macron and Canada’ Prime Minister Justin Trudeau over the weekend, was a good opportunity to rehearse all the slogans of democracy. Now comes the true test of installing and applying true democracy.

Since the fall of the former regime and the election of Pashinyan as prime minister on May 8, Armenia’s political fortunes have experienced many twists and turns until they were cleared of all hurdles to head into snap elections in December.

After Pashinyan took the reins, the Republican Party, the longtime political juggernaut of Armenian politics, which had held a majority in the parliament, tried a comeback with a sneaky legislative action with the collusion of Gagik Tsarukyan’s Prosperous Armenia Party, which still has 31 members in the parliament, and the ARF (Dashnaktsutyun), to which Pashinyan responded with swift political action by firing the ministers and governors (marzbeds) belonging to the renegade parties.

Tsarukyan, the unabashed chameleon of Armenia’s political landscape, struck a deal and signed a pact with Pashinyan to refrain from proposing a prime ministerial candidate and agreeing to hold snap elections in December.

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Although Pashinyan is holding on to power by the rule of the mob, he is still trying to push his political agenda through the constitutional motions, which requires a seven-day period to elect a prime minister after the resignation of the incumbent. And then, another seven days of inaction to pave the way for the dissolution of the parliament is required.

Many pundits and advisors had been warning Pashinyan against resigning in light of recent intrigues, but Pashinyan decided to take the risk after effectively paralyzing the forces which were capable of plotting against him.

The unconditional surrender of 15 parliamentary members of the Republican Party already has broken the camel’s back. Now, the path is open for Pashinyan to sprint towards final victory.

Pashinyan was successful in mobilizing the citizenry to defeat the well-entrenched structure of the Republican Party. The latter, with all its petty, greedy cronies, had badly bruised the public sentiment. Pashinyan realized at the recent mayoral election in Yerevan that a good number of votes cast were against the old regime rather than for the new administration. At this time, there is so much anger and rancor against former presidents Robert Kocharyan and Serzh Sargsyan and their cohorts plundering the country, that the public is out for revenge. Little heed is being paid to Pashinyan’s actions, policies or political philosophy. Pashinyan has already realized that the mob that he energized needs to be tamed so that the country can take a constructive course toward democracy.

There is no question about the forthcoming overwhelming victory of Pashinyan’s Social Contract Party. He has not yet had the time and opportunity to enunciate the political philosophy of that party.

Another major question is what configuration the forthcoming parliament will take. If the mayoral elections are any indication, Pashinyan’s party will once again receive 80 percent of the vote. The constitution requires that the 105-member parliament comprise four political parties. Thirty percent of the parliamentary seats have to be allocated to the opposition parties. Therefore, if Pashinyan sweeps the majority of the seats, a fictional opposition needs to be created to conform to the form rather than the spirit of the legislative structures. The system will not be far from the Sargsyan era, when ersatz opposition groups were created to give the appearance of democratization to the parliament.

In drafting the current constitution, Serzh Sargsyan had fashioned the office of the super prime minister to shape his ambitions, even stripping most powers of the president.

Pashinyan realizes that some of those powers have to be returned to the office of the president. And also, the security apparatus, which are under the command of the prime minister, need to work independently.

The judges and the entire judicial system had always been dependent on the presidential office. Verdicts were issued at the whim of the power center. If the role of the judiciary should be to hold the balance between the legislative and the executive branches, there has to be an independent judiciary. If in the past, the calls were emanating from the power center in the office of the president to the courts, recent leaks from the security apparatus reveal the calls now are coming in reverse order with the same effect and result.

The structure of the forthcoming government, which will put in place the changes, is extremely important.

During the French Revolution, guillotine executions had become public entertainment. Similarly, high profile arrests in Armenia, such as that of oligarch Gen. Manvel Grigoryan, satisfy the public demand for the former gluttons filling their pockets to face consequences in the wake of the Velvet Revolution.

“I’m not sure how educated the public has been about anti-corruption; Armenians mostly see corruption as oligarchs plundering the country,” said Anahit Shirinyan, a Chatham House Academy fellow specializing in Armenian politics.

The fight against corruption is not a goal in itself; it has to lead towards the formation of a fairer society. Pashinyan has been advocating for non-violent change in an atmosphere of love and brotherhood. That policy has served him well in getting rid of a corrupt regime. But the task of reconstruction is more challenging, mostly because the public sentiment has not settled yet. Social media, which supports Pashinyan, is full of obscene and lewd statements aimed at detractors, from which the prime minister must disassociate himself. He has already tried to tame that beast, to no avail.

“The rhetoric during the transition of power was entirely against the old regime,” wrote Alexander Iskandaryan, the director of the Caucasus Institute. “That was smart. The old regime thought they could survive on bribes and apathy, but you can’t maintain that forever. But neither does high popularity. The legitimacy it brings is useful only if you use it for something.”

At this point, the Velvet Revolution is on its way towards its final victory, which is “using it for something.”

Once the elections are held, without bribes and with cohesion, it will be the time for implementing reforms and those reforms should not only prove to be cosmetic, playing around the constitution, but fundamental, which envision the formation of true and serious political parties, emulating Western democracies. Thus far, all three presidents of Armenia, beginning with Levon Ter-Petrosian, have fought traditional political parties for having operated in the diaspora yet always focused on a free Armenia.

All new political parties in Armenia have been formed around personalities or around their pocketbooks, and that is why they have fallen like a house of cards. There is no ideological body that can hold them together. The diaspora may contribute in investments but also in political experience.

Armenia needs to harness all its resources domestically and from around the world to make this time its march towards a democratic future a success.

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