YEREVAN – The eighth convocation of Armenia’s National Assembly held its first session on Monday, August 2. President Armen Sarkissian officially opened the reconvened parliament which now includes 107 representatives of the three parties which won seats in the June 20 snap election. The vote, which had been triggered as part of a political agreement to end weeks of political tension in the wake of Armenia’s defeat in the Second Artsakh War, was hailed by local and international observers as “free and fair.”
Based on a complex equation for calculating seat distribution, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s Civil Contract party, which won just under 55 percent of the ballot, sent 71 representatives to the National Assembly on Monday — one seat shy of an absolute (two-thirds) majority.
In fact, the Armenian Electoral Code’s Effective Opposition provision specifically prevents the formation of absolute majority governments by adapting the number of seats in favor of the opposition. Such checks and balances in the electoral code are designed to foster cooperation across the aisle on important matters such as constitutional amendments.
Following a failed appeal to the Constitutional Court, both the Armenia and “I Have Honor” Alliances, which finished second and third, respectively, have agreed to take up their seats in parliament. Twenty-six representatives of the Armenia Alliance, which includes the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) and the little-known Reborn Armenia party, took their seats on Monday, but their leader, Robert Kocharyan, was not among them. Following weeks of speculation, the former president, who continues to face corruption charges dating to his time in office, announced his intention to decline his seat on July 20. Justifying his decision, Kocharyan claimed that he was not well suited for a role in opposition; “by virtue of my character I have always been a person of executive power.” He did say he would continue to lead the alliance from outside the parliament. General Seyran Ohanyan, a former Minister of Defense and a close ally of the former president, took his seat in his stead.
Having won 5.2 percent of the vote, the other opposition alliance, dubbed “I have Honor,” managed to grab the remaining seven seats. The alliance which includes the formerly-ruling Republican Party and headed by the one-time head of the Security Service Arthur Vanetsyan, took up its seats despite not meeting the minimum electoral threshold due to another loophole in the Effective Opposition provision which stipulates a minimum of three political blocs in Parliament.
In his speech on this occasion, President Sarkissian addressed the convocation of returning and freshmen parliamentarians. “Armenia’s future must be built around a strong, egalitarian and forward-thinking vision,” the president said, adding that the government must do everything to protect and preserve an independent statehood as a foundational armenian value, both for the sake of our children, and our ancestors. He added that the new parliament must value professionalism and a strong work ethic. “Populism and demagoguery are a dead end,” he added.