Armenia’s Snap Elections: Solution or Delusion?

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A fatalistic mood has descended upon Armenia; this is a time when the families of some of the 5,000 victims of the recent disastrous war rejoice if they find the remains of their loved ones. Ten thousand wounded soldiers are facing a tough road to recovery and mobility through the help of prostheses. The entire country is caught in the grips of a raging pandemic, pinning its hopes on herd immunity rather than the promised vaccines which have yet to arrive.

Life, as we see, is upside down in Armenia, except for political life, which is preparing for snap elections to be held on June 20.

The ruling My Step coalition of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, which has 83 seats in the 132-seat parliament, had previously hesitated to pull the trigger on snap elections as pressure was mounting from the opposition as well as other quarters. Members did not know how they would fare. At first, the party announced that there was no public clamor for elections when it was clear Pashinyan’s popularity was dwindling. Then, after they were reassured that the opposition had not garnered enough momentum, they started holding negotiations with Edmon Marukyan, the leader of the docile opposition party Bright Armenia in the parliament.

However, one of the deciding factors for snap elections was the realignment of the Prosperous Armenia Party. Its leader, Gagik Tsarukyan, earlier had joined the Homeland Salvation Movement, headed by former Prime Minister Vazgen Manukyan. It is not the first time that Tsarukyan has shifted allegiances. When his party quit the opposition movement of 17 parties and publicly stated that Prosperous Armenia would not propose a candidate for prime minister, Pashinyan’s party went ahead and announced the date for elections. The second blow to the opposition movement came from the Homeland (Hayrenik) Party, headed by the former Security Services Chief Arthur Vanetzyan. It is likely that Vanetzyan’s party may join Prosperous Armenia in an alliance, otherwise it does not stand a chance to have a representative in the parliament. The opposition movement lost popularity also, when its leader, Vazgen Manukyan, allowed the ARF leader Ishkhan Saghatelyan to upstage him.

The local ARF chapter in Armenia does not enjoy much popularity; its conduct even caused a split in the ARF ranks in the diaspora.

All these defections have resulted in the occupiers of the tents on Baghramyan Street, erected by the opposition to block entry to the parliament, to abandon their posts.

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While the opposition was losing influence, a third party did not emerge to give an alternative choice to the electorate, further reassuring Pashinyan’s party that it did not face a serious challenge.

There are many fringe parties which plan to take part in the elections; Levon Ter-Petrosian’s National Party, Levon Shirinyan’s Christian Democratic Party, the Worker’s Party, the Heritage Party and many other groups whose names are not familiar to the public.

One important development which needs to be marked is the rise of the popularity of the National Popular Pole (Bever), which comprises Sasna Tserer and the European Party, headed by filmmaker Tigran Khzmalyan. No party in the past dared publicly to side with the West and NATO. The public rally held by this group on March 16 gathered a large crowd, which along the Armenian tricolor, waved the US and French flags. Speakers also stated that “from now on, the winds blow from the west, not from the north.”

They outright called for alignment with the European Union and with the US. This was the result of frustration from Russia’s treatment of Armenia during the 44-day war. Indeed, Moscow had supplied Armenia’s army with Iskandar missiles, which did not fire and with SU-30 fighter jets without their missiles.

To top it off, some authoritative voices in Moscow blamed the Russian side for instigating the war. Constantin Zatulin, the head of the Russian Duma’s Foreign Policy Commission, accused Russian actions of contributing to the start of the war, while the Kremlin leadership expected gratitude from Yerevan for having stopped the war, suggesting “otherwise Armenia would have faced the worst.”

In his plan to purge the army from its Russophile element, the prime minister had fired the chief of the army general staff Onik Gasparyan, who, along with 40 other officers, had demanded the former’s resignation.

The prime minister’s decree sacking Gasparyan was not signed by President Armen Sarkissian and it has been submitted to the Administrative Court, which found the prime minister’s order illegal and reinstituted Gasparyan to his position.

Meanwhile, Pashinyan appointed Artak Davtyan to replace Gasparyan. This is an anomaly in the political situation and the prime minister cannot push through his decisions.

There is certainly a political crisis, which the ruling party believes it can mitigate with snap elections. Pashinyan himself symbolizes the defeat but he will benefit from the apathy crated by the last war.

Recent polls indicate that only 40 percent of the electorate plans to vote.

Unfortunately, during the thirty years of independence, Armenia was not able to develop political parties around ideas and philosophies. Instead, the voters follow individuals of influence and switch allegiance for no reason.

In all probability, Pashinyan’s My Step alliance will win the elections by default, because no alternative force has emerged and above all, because of the political immaturity of the voting public.

Any new government which wins will face a very daunting agenda: to prepare the army for the next inevitable war, to develop the economy, to sustain the modernization of the armed forces, to discourage the speedy outflow of emigrants, to restore the wounded psyches of the public and face tough negotiations with the enemy for the implementation of the nine-point declaration of November 9.

In the meantime, deteriorating relations between the US and Russia have to be factored in as well as negotiations around Iran’s nuclear deal.

Besides these external political factors, there are some domestic problems that need to be addressed: since September 27, 2020, martial law has been in place and it has to be lifted before the elections.

A draft law has been submitted to change the electoral code, that has to be addressed because the configuration of the next parliament depends heavily on whether the election is held under current law or the one which is awaiting approval.

Pashinyan’s task is cut out for him. He could not handle the war and yet he will be tasked to lead the recovery of a devastated country.

Under the most optimistic scenario, the election will fall short of solving the political economic, psychological and diplomatic disaster. At best, it will provide a delusion to the public.

 

 

 

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