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Armenian Parliamentary Elections: The Story of a Rough Velvet

The Aftermath of the Revolution

The last time Armenians went to the polls, the calendar was showing 9 December 2018 and the country was overwhelmed by a massive wave of sanguineness, as the so-called Velvet Revolution was emerging victorious. The 2018 parliamentary elections were significant for a variety of aspects. First of all, the results were enormous for the winning political bloc ‘My Step Alliance’ (IKD), led by Nikol Pashinyan, which gained 70.44%. Second, the former ruling party, the Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), failed to attain the minimum 5% threshold and therefore enter in the Armenian parliament for the first time since the country’s independence. Moreover, a bunch of new political parties were founded during the elections themselves, as snap elections were happening for the first time in Armenia. Clearly, the anti-government marches, led by Nikol Pashinyan, had formed into a catalyst for the country’s political modus vivendi.

More than two and a half years have passed since 2018 and Armenia is heading once again to snap elections on 20 June, although formally the next election should occur in 2023. This time Armenians will go to vote with very different emotions from those they had in 2018. So, what did change during that period and especially in 2020?

The short answer to the above question is war. The consequences of the one-and-a-half-month war of Nagorno-Karabakh were critical for Armenia, which was on the losing side. As it happens most of the time, a defeat in a war is also accompanied by a political crisis. But in order to better understand the events that led to the June elections, the dominant players and their promises, we must firstly deepen into the social and political developments of the last three years.

So once again, let’s go back to the year 2018. My Step Alliance, the political bloc led by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, came to power by prioritising the eradication of corruption in the agenda, while promising the westernisation and economic reform of Armenia. However, Pashinyan kept arguing that Armenia should hold close ties with both the west and east and act as a bridge between those two poles. Speaking of corruption, in July 2018 Robert Kocharyan, the former President of Armenia was charged for the crime of violent breakup in the 2008 election protests, where 10 people died. The ex-president’s so-called trial of the decade began in 2019 with the accusation of overthrowing the constitutional order. For Pashinyan, this trial was critical as a first hit against the old regime which was still controlling the judicial system. Long story short, in March 2021 the trial ended with the court declaring the article of the criminal code under which Kocharyan was accused unconstitutional.

Map: Arnold Platon

Kocharyan’s acquittal was accompanied by his return to politics, as he announced that he will participate in the upcoming snap elections. But before we get to the elections, we must briefly recap the main themes of Armenian politics.

Armenia suffered heavily from the Covid-19 pandemic. With more that 220,000 total cases and close to 4,500 deaths the country is one of worst hit nations in the Caucasus region, proportionally with the population. According to the last survey of the World Bank, the consequences of Covid-19 could lead to the impoverishment of around 70,000 people in Armenia, while more than 720,000 Armenians could shift to lower-welfare.

So, in just one-year Armenia lost a war with heavy casualties, shrunk financially and eventually was led to a political crisis. At the same time Pashinyan and his government lost the anti-corruption battle and couldn’t fulfill the promise of economic growth. For Pashinyan’s opponents, this was a turning point, where they could return for the revanche.

The Road to Elections

On 3 December 2020 the Homeland Salvation Movement—a political alliance—was established under the lead of Vazgen Manukyan, the first prime minister of Armenia. The movement, consisting of several opposition parties, criticized the Nagorno-Karabakh ceasefire agreement and demanded the resignation of Armenia’s Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan. Some of the significant members were HHK, BHK, HYD, HG and Alyans. Meanwhile former Presidents Serzh Sargsyan and Robert Kocharyan were supportive to the movement. Manukyan rejected calls for elections and insisted on an uprising to remove Pashinyan. Although the movement didn’t receive much public support and influence it kept organising rallies and demanding the Pashinyan’s resignation. After Pashinyan announced snap elections on June 20, gradually the movement started losing members, as more individuals and parties started forming alliances and/or announcing their participation in the elections.

Armenian Electoral System

Before getting to the parties and alliances participating in the upcoming elections, we must clarify the electoral system of Armenia. The Armenian Parliament or the National Assembly, as it is referred to in Armenia, consists of 132 seats and for its formation it is necessary to fill at least 101 of them. In order for a party to enter the parliament, it needs to pass the 5% threshold, in case of an alliance the threshold is 7%. A party must get at least 50% of the vote mandate or create an alliance that reaches 50% within six days in order to form a government.  If that doesn’t happen, then a second round of elections will be carried out 28 days after the first round, where just the two most-voted parties or alliances are allowed to participate. The second-round winner will be given an extra number of mandates to reach a minimum of 54% of all seats. According to the last amendments to the electoral code in April 2021, only candidates within a party list can participate in the elections.

The Significant Forces

So, who are these parties and alliances, what’s their ideology and electoral positions? In total 26 political forces will participate in the upcoming elections, four political blocs and 22 parties. The key players are the Civil Contract (KP ~ EPP|S&D) led by acting prime minister Nikol Pashinyan. Although KP is part of the governing alliance called ‘My Step Alliance’, the party has already announced that it will participate in the elections independently. While the party has suffered heavy losses reaching its record low of 35.9%, it still comes first according to the latest MPG poll.

From the other side, ‘Armenia Alliance’ (HD -*), a political alliance which consists of Armenian Revolutionary Federation (HYD – S&D) and Reviving Armenia (VH -*) reaches 33% in the latest MPG poll. The leader of the alliance is former President Robert Kocharyan. With less than three points behind Nikol Pashinyan, Kocharyan’s bloc looks like it will be the main opponent. Regarding the political positions of the alliance, it proposes the creation of lasting peace in the Caucasian region and the cessation of socio-economic decline. The ideological tendencies are not yet clear, but the alliance seems to be close to Armenian nationalism and conservatism.

Another significant political bloc, is the ‘I Have Honor’ alliance (PUD -*), founded on 15 May 2021 by the former governing party, the ‘Republican Party of Armenia’ (HHK – EPP) and Homeland Party (HG -*). Although HHK’s leader is still former President Serzh Sargsyan, the alliance will be led by Artur Vanetsyan, who is the leader of HG. ‘I Have Honor’ identifies itself as national-conservative, while supporting the self-determination of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh). The alliance reaches 6.3% according to the latest results of MPG poll.

Moreover, Prosperous Armenia (BHK – ECR) led by Gagik Tsarukyan, announced the party’s participation in the upcoming elections. According to the latest results of MPG poll the pro-Russian and Eurosceptic party is going to reach 6.7%, which means that it will probably enter the parliament. On the other hand, Bright Armenia (LH – RE) led by Edmon Marukyan, a pro-European party is receiving 4.6% and will also participate in the elections. Both BHK and LH are currently parliamentary parties.

Last but not least, the Republic Party (HK -*), led by Aram Sargsyan will also participate in the elections, without cooperating with any other political force. The conservative party is estimated to reach 3.4% according to the latest results of MPG poll, meaning that it will find it difficult to enter parliament.

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On June 20 Armenians will go to vote, hoping to give an end to the political and social crisis that’s shaking the country. Although Armenia is a small country, smaller than Belgium, with a population less than 3 million, the elections are considered very crucial for the stability of the very unstable Caucasian region. Will June 20 be the cornerstone for Armenia’s progress towards a better future following the ideas of the 2018 revolution or will it be the mark for the restoration of the old regime? The question will be answered directly by the citizens of Armenia.

Note: all poll results are based on MPG poll fieldwork 31 May – 04 June 2021. 

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