BY BASANTI MARDEMOOTOO
These past two weeks have been some of the most politically significant in Armenia’s recent history. Through a series of events that monumentalized the power demonstrated by the Armenian people, Serzh Sargsyan stepped down from his position as Prime Minister. This comes less than one week after he was sworn following his two consecutive Presidential terms. The protests that led to this decision stem from Armenian citizens’ growing discontent with Sargsyan’s leadership.
Serzh Sargsyan, first elected in 2008, is part of the country’s Republican Party which is the country’s oldest political party, known for its conservative legislative decisions and its ‘nation-religion’ ideology with it. Despite being a close ally to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Sargsyan played a key role in Armenia’s integration in the European field. In 2015, his constitutional reforms affected the nation’s electoral system used by significantly shifting political power from the President to the Prime Minister. This shift in power, which follows parliamentary system structure of governance, was seen as a potential threat. This tactic of leading constitutional reforms in order to obtain more power is not a new one by any means. Turkey recently changed its electoral system to give the Presidency more power than the Prime Minister, shifting its government system from Parlimentary to Presidential. In Turkey’s case, it was quite clear that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pursued this change in electoral systems to allow for his continuous rule over the country. Russia is another example: President Putin stepped down from his Presidency for one term, taking the role of Prime Minister before returning to the Presidency once again. The same reasoning can be used to understand the fear presented by those who follow Armenian politics.
By shifting power to the Prime Minister, Sargsyan could undertake rather authoritarian tendencies by going from one position to another to bypass term limits. Despite recently stating that he would not run for Prime Minister, Sargsyan went against his word and was successfully elected. Sargsyan faced a series of “allegations of corruption” as well as vote buying and manipulation. This history of political pressures exerted on the voters has allowed for a budding opposition to Sargsyan, therefore one can speculate that the constitutional changes which led to his election as Prime Minister served mainly as the factor which pushed the Armenian population over the edge. As his motives of staying in power became clearer, his inauguration earlier this month caused an Armenian uproar.
Once the protests had ignited, opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan quickly rose to the forefront of the movement. Pashinyan, who urges “the peaceful transition of power without any shocks,” has done a good job of depicting this revolution for what it means. Unlike other recent revolutions in Eastern Europe, Russia has taken a relatively laid back stance of the events unfolding in Armenia, only publicly stating their support for the country in general. One of the reasons the regional superpower has kept its distance could be connected to the fact that the revolution has stayed away from any anti-Russian (or alternatively, pro-Western) messages. Armenia has mainly engaged in defending their country’s democratic values, which poses limits on allowing the ruling party to hog all the power. It appears that this revolution is very much about the civil engagement of the Armenian people, and their efforts to keep the government in check.
The night before Sargsyan resigned, he met with Pashinyan. Stating that the talk was unsuccessful would be a gross understatement: quickly after starting, the talks broke down and Sargsyan walked out of the meeting. Pashinyan was arrested in spite of his parliamentary immunity, which further enraged the public and drew even more protesters into the streets.
Pashinyan was released the following day and Sargsyan, giving in to the growing anger, stepped down. Three days after, Pashinyan was due to meet with acting Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan. The meeting’s abrupt cancellation led to the street protests flaring up again. Seen as a political deadlock by the country’s population, the failed meeting further reinforced their need to vocalize their frustrations with the failure of the democratic system in Armenia.
Speaker of the House Aran Babloyan announced that the Parliament will be electing a new Prime Minister this Tuesday, May 1st. Armenia’s their constitution cites that “parliamentary factions are entitled to nominate candidates for the role within seven days of the Prime Minister’s resignation, which will then be followed by an open vote by the members of Parliament. Despite the break in the governing coalition leaving the Republican Party on its own, it still retains its parliamentary majority. No matter who the nominees are, this advantage could very easily result in a leader from the Republican party being elected.
Pashinyan has publicly stated that neither the acting Prime Minister nor the current governing party should be involved in the new leadership, amid claims that he should be appointed given his interaction with the Armenian people throughout this protest. Unfortunately, unless he can obtain the favor of the majority, Pashinyan’s election is unlikely. It is clear that the revolution taking place is focused on bringing awareness to the breach of democratic values portrayed by the country’s current government. Consequently, the aims of this revolution are not only limited to getting Sargsyan out of office but also to bring attention to the ruling party of the country, which is seen as the primary vehicle of corruption and the cause for many of the issues in the country.
Even with Tuesday’s election, there is a long way to go for those who want to see a genuine change in Armenian politics. The situation is incredibly sensitive and a wrong move by the Republic Party could jeopardize all the revolution’s progress.
Only time will tell.