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Armenia Elections - 2021

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan called a snap election, seeking to defuse a worsening political crisis. His firing of a military chief had deepened a rift caused by the 2020 conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. The prime minster came to power in 2018 after he led street protests against the then government. After talks on 18 March 2020 with the leader of an opposition faction in parliament, Pashinyan announced a general election would take place on 20 June 2021.

Armenia’s constitution provides for a parliamentary republic with a unicameral legislature, the National Assembly (parliament). The prime minister elected by the parliament heads the government; the president, also elected by the parliament, largely performs a ceremonial role. During December 2018 parliamentary elections, the My Step coalition, led by acting prime minister Nikol Pashinyan, won 70 percent of the vote and an overwhelming majority of seats in the parliament. According to the assessment of the international election observation mission under the umbrella of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the parliamentary elections were held with respect for fundamental freedoms.

Since the 2018 political transition, the media environment has been freer, as some outlets began to step away from the earlier practice of self-censorship; however, there were reports that some outlets avoided criticizing the authorities so as not to appear “counterrevolutionary.” In its final report on the December 2018 elections, the OSCE Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) Election Observation Mission stated that while most interlocutors noted improvements in media freedom and an increase in plurality of opinions since April 2018, some also noted that the postrevolutionary public discourse was not conducive to criticism of the government, in particular, the then acting prime minister. Many traditional and online media continued to lack objective reporting.

Media company ownership was mostly nontransparent. The country’s Fourth Action Plan of Open-Government Partnership Initiative of the Republic of Armenia (2018-2020) included commitments to improve ownership disclosure. Media NGOs advocated for the media sector to be included as a priority sector in the action plan and proposed changes to the Law on Television and Radio that fostered media ownership transparency. According to media experts there was a dramatic increase in false news stories and the spread of disinformation regarding social networks and media during the year 2019. The government claimed that former government representatives, who reportedly owned most media–including television stations with nationwide coverage–used media outlets to manipulate public opinion against authorities.

Pashinyan faced calls to resign since agreeing to a Russian-brokered ceasefire in November 2020 that halted six weeks of fighting in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Tensions became critical last in February 2020 when the military joined calls for Pashinyan to step down after protesters marched on parliament. This prompted Pashinyan to try to dismiss the military's chief of staff Onik Gasparyan, claiming that there had effectively been an attempted coup. Gasparyan refused to leave, and the country's President Armen Sarkisian has also called for Pashinyan to go.

Opposition supporters blocked government buildings and barricaded streets, demanding Pashinyan's resignation. The prime minister came to power in 2018 after he led street protests against the government of the day, forcing it to step down. There were great hopes that he could tackle corruption in the country.

Armenia had been steeped in protests since Pashinyan signed a Russian-backed peace deal last year that ended a war with Azerbaijan for control of the region of Nagorno-Karabakh. The region had always officially been part of Azerbaijani territory, but it was effectively controlled for decades by Armenia after fighting in the 1990s. With help from Turkey, Azerbaijan launched an offensive last year that resulted in heavy losses for Armenia, and a peace deal in which it lost large portions of land. Thousands took to the streets to protest the deal in November. Huge rallies outside parliament last month met with a heavy police presence.

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan resigned on 25 April 2021 while staying on in a caretaker capacity, setting the stage for a June 20 parliamentary election aimed at defusing a protracted political crisis. Pashinyan had faced calls to stand down since his November signing of a Russian-brokered peace agreement with Azerbaijan that ended a war between the two arch-foes for control of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region. "I am resigning from my post as prime minister today" to hold the snap vote on June 20, he said. "I am returning to the citizens of Armenia the power they gave me, so that they decide the government's fate through free and fair elections," he said. After Pashinyan announced his resignation, all members of his cabinet handed in their own resignations, as required by Armenian law.

Armenian leaders wrapped up campaigning ahead of snap weekend polls to end a political crisis sparked by a humiliating military defeat to Azerbaijan in 2020. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan called the early election in the hopes of renewing his mandate but is in a tight race with his main rival, former leader Robert Kocharyan. Pashinyan rose to power in 2018 on pledges to oust corrupt elites and turn around the country's fortunes after decades of poverty and corruption. But he lost much of his lustre after Armenia ceded swathes of territory to arch foe Azerbaijan following a six-week war over a lingering territorial dispute that claimed over 6,000 lives. Some polls showed Pashinyan's Civil Contract Party is neck-and-neck with former president Kocharyan's electoral grouping but neither were expected to get more than 30 percent of the vote. A party needs to garner at least 54 percent of seats in the legislature to form a government, and analysts did not rule out a second round of polls.

Nicol Pashinyan and his Civil Contact party won the 20 June 2021 Armenian parliamentary election with 53.92% of the votes, according to the country's electoral commission. Former president Robert Kocharyan’s newly-created Armenia Alliance party trailed in a distant second place, with 21% of the total vote. Observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) declared the "overwhelmingly positive" election to have been "competitive and well run". Its report said "fundamental freedoms key to democratic elections were generally respected" in the "highly transparent" polls.

None of the other 20 parties and three alliances in the elections cleared the minimum threshold needed to win parliamentary seats: 5 percent for parties or 7 percent for alliances. Since Armenia’s constitution requires at least three parties or alliances in the unicameral parliament, the Republican Party of former President Serzh Sarkisian also will take seats as the third-place finisher with just under 5 percent of the vote.

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Page last modified: 01-10-2021 18:22:27 ZULU