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Armenian snap elections seen as the final chapter of the Velvet Revolution

On December 9th Armenian citizens will cast their votes in snap parliamentary elections triggered by the inability of the National Assembly to nominate and elect a new Prime Minister in the two-week period following Nikol Pashinyan’s resignation on 16th October 2018. Following the events of spring 2018, that later were dubbed as Velvet Revolution, Pashinyan was elected as Prime Minister of Armenia. Pashinyan and his Civil Contract Party (CC-*) lacked a majority in parliament, which was still controlled by the former ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK-EPP). Following their inability to carry out policies and reforms necessary to transform Armenian political and economic life, as well as because of controversial bills adopted by the parliament, Pashinyan resigned and caused the constitutional crisis in order to call extraordinary parliamentary elections. It is believed that these snap elections are the final chapter of the Velvet Revolution and after this, Pashinyan and his supporters can put into practice their ambitious vision and policies related to attempt to transform Armenia.

Armenian political context

The former Soviet Republic of Armenia gained its independence in the early 1990s. The initial years of independence were marked by military conflict with Azerbaijan over the disputed region Nagorny-Karabakh region. The conflict made a deep imprint on Armenian politics as the status quo result was seen as an early legitimisation for the Armenian government. For a long time issues of the national security saw continued support for the government. For the nearly two decades, the ruling Republican party successfully used a mixture of coercion, repression and other legitimisation strategies to weaken opponents and please voters.

However, after almost 20-years, they lost power earlier this year. The final straw came when two-time president Serzh Sargsyan (HHK-EPP) tried to become prime minister after the constitutional amendments that transferred the main political powers from the President to the office of Prime Minister. This accumulated in anger over the ruling partyโ€™s incompetence and corruption, as well as frustration over the stagnation of the economy, resulting in the successful protest against Sargsyan’s Republican Party. Even though Sargsyan step down and opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan was elected as a Prime Minister, the former ruling Party still controlled the parliament.

Pashinyan has initiated snap elections to consolidate his power so he can attempt to implement his campaign promises relating to fighting corruption, modernising the economy and facilitating democratic reforms. Commentators note that the elections are a turning point for Armenian politics, as this could help to end post-soviet style political culture in the country and accelerate an influx of a young, educated and motived cohort of politicians into mainstream politics.

My Step Alliance (1KD-*)

My Step Alliance is a newly formed political coalition that has the largest chance of winning the snap parliamentary elections. It is projected both by IRI and Gallup International polls to gain a ‘constitutional’ majority in the future parliament. The alliance consists of acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyanโ€™s Civil Contract party and Mission Party (*) lead by Manuk Sukiasyan. It was formed before for the Yerevan City Council election held in August 2018, where the newly formed political union gained a majority on the city council and won the office of the Mayor. The coalition is perceived as a big tent anti-corruption union that lacks coherent ideological stance.

The driving force of My Step Alliance is the former journalist and civic activist Nikol Pashinyan, that was behind the mass protests of spring 2018 that eventually forced former President Serzh Sargsyan to resign from the office of Prime Minister. Pashinyan describes himself as a post-ideological politician. His political agenda is mostly channelled towards anti-corruption activities and transformation of post-soviet Armenian society. He is often compared to the Emmanuel Macron and described as a โ€œradical centristโ€ that supports a strong civil society, liberal values, and social funding. As for the foreign policy, Pashinyan tries not to irritate Armenia’s relationship with Russia โ€“ Armeniaโ€™s main ally. Despite this, when he was an opposition politician, Pashinayan was Kremlin-skeptic but has since changed his official opinion, instead backing continued friendship between the two countries. Nevertheless, Pashinanyn also wants to strengthen bilateral relations with EU and USA.

Prosperous Armenia (BHK-ECR)

For the past decade, Prosperous Armenia party has been the strongest oppositional force in the Armenian parliament. Established in 2004, it was rumoured that Armeniaโ€™s second president Robert Kocharyan was behind the party, however, this was never confirmed. Officially, Gagik Tsarukyan, a wealthy businessperson, often dubbed as the most powerful Armenian oligarch, leads the party. Prosperous Armenia mostly reflects the interests of big business and advocates economic liberalism and social conservatism. At the same time, the party garners support from the rural parts of Armenia. In foreign policy terms, Prosperous Armenia supports a pro-Kremlin orientation of the country. During the Armenian Velvet Revolution, the party supported Nikol Pashinyan and later provided support in parliament too. However, no formal alliances were formed between the parties.

Prosperous Armenia is heavily dependent on the figure of Gagik Tsarukyan. Notorious for his controversial statements, Tsarukyan owns a number of businesses across the country as well as presiding over Armenia’s National Olympic Committee. Being one of the wealthiest persons in the country, it has been rumoured that he had close ties with the Armenian government and had often supported then governing Armenian Republican Party, however, this has since broken down. Since then, Tsarukyan has become less active in public and political life. 

The Republican Party of Armenia (HHK-EPP)

The Republican Party of Armenia was the ruling party for nearly 20 years. After 1998 both Presidents of Armenia were affiliated to the party. Often described as the โ€œparty of powerโ€, the Republican Party was a typical post-soviet ruling party with catch-all ideology. Nominally centre-right politically they have implemented populist and socially oriented politics, with a mixture of Armenian nationalism and national conservatism. In recent years, the party has been accused of being associated with oligarchs and corrupt public servants.

The trigger for their loss of power was the election of the former President Serzh Sargsyan in the prime minister’s post. Prior to this Sargsyan declared that he would not seek the post of prime minister after the end of his term of presidency, however, he ran anyway. After 10 years of ruling the country, tens of thousands of Armenians protested against Sargsyan and the Republican Party controlled government. The party and Sargsyan retreated and did not hinder Pashinyanโ€™s election as Prime Minister as their Republican Party still controlled the parliament. The ongoing tension between the Republican Party and Pashinyan eventually provoked this snap election. In the upcoming elections, Republicans are trying to rebrand and position themselves as a defender of traditional cultural values and fight for national security. In this sense, nominating the former Defense Minister Vigen Sargsyan as their leader for the upcoming election has been a key step toward rejuvenation for the party.

Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnak) (ARF-S&D)

Though currently a marginal force, ARF are one of the oldest parties in Armenia, tracking their roots back into the Russian Empire. The party has links with the diaspora Armenian population, a crucial group in the context of Armenia. Dashnak is also active in Lebanon and its sister party their has 3 seats in the Lebanese parliament. Even though ARF was one of the driving forces of Armenian political life in the late 19th and early 20th century since Armenian independence the partyโ€™s influence has been minor. In their current shape, the party advocates for Armenian nationalism and social democracy. Nominally in the opposition, it has supported the ruling Republican Party on many occasions but has recently switched sides to support Pashinyan’s Velvet Revolution. Despite the fact, that ARF supported Pashinyanโ€™s political cause in the spring, the latest IRI poll shows that the majority of the Armenian voters are disappointed with the party and just 2% of voters are ready to vote for them in the upcoming elections. Nevertheless, because of its historical significance and influence amongst the diaspora, ARF is an important player in Armenian politics.

The snap election will take place on Sunday the 9th of December, with some 2.5 million voters being eligible to take part. Follow Europe Elects on social media to keep up with the latest news, polling, and election results.

Rati Shubladze is a member of the Europe Elects team, working as a data analyst, and leads on our work on Eastern European politics.

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