Armenia - Politics
Protest has become an entrenched part of post-Soviet Armenia's political culture. Most of its elections have been accompanied by mass demonstrations and allegations of fraud.
Armenia remains a close ally of Moscow and relies on it for protection, especially with regard to its conflict with neighboring Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region. In 2013, Armenia backed out of EU association talks and instead joined the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), a bloc of former Soviet republics under Russian leadership.
Armenia is a constitutional republic with a population of approximately 3.2 million. The constitution provides for an elected president and a unicameral legislature (the National Assembly). The country has a multiparty political system. The Government of Armenia's stated aim is to build a Western-style parliamentary democracy as the basis of its form of government.
The unicameral National Assembly has 90 seats which are elected by proportional representation (party list), and 41 are single mandate districts. However, international observers have been critical of the conduct of national elections in 1995, 1999, and 2003, as well as the constitutional referendum of 2005. The new constitution in 2005 increased the power of the legislative branch and allows for more independence of the judiciary; in practice, however, both branches remain subject to political pressure from the executive branch, which retains considerably greater power than its counterparts in most European countries.
Many challenges face the development of a pluralistic, democratic, and competitive political system. Although Armenia has been independent for almost fifteen years, autocratic mentalities and practices remain embedded. The government is dominated by the executive branch and is without meaningful checks and balances. The judiciary is not independent, and rulings are politically biased. A symbiotic relationship between political and business elites has bred endemic corruption and severely hampers the ability of opposition parties to raise funds or access the electronic media.
The murky ownership of Armenia's major industry clusters is a hidden driver of Armenian politics and elites' inter-relationships. Yerevan chatter frequently refers to which prominent political figure owns what prominent economic assets, but it is difficult to get clear and consistent information. Broadly speaking, by 2009 almost all the most lucrative sectors and enterprises were divided into one of two major political/economic pyramids: one headed by President Serzh Sargsian and the other by ex-President Robert Kocharian. Having somewhat broken out of the Kocharian pyramid, parliament speaker Hovik Abrahamian headed what could become a third major cluster of business enterprises.
Business elites are deeply intertwined with political power, and vice versa, and each has an incentive to preserve the status quo, fearing that regime change could kick off a new campaign of economic redistribution at the expense of today's oligarchs. However, other business leaders may have been canny enough not to burn bridges, instead cultivating civil relations across the political divide.
Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces, although some members of the security forces continued to commit human rights abuses with impunity while under the direction of civilian leadership.Authorities restricted the right of citizens to freely change their government in mayoral elections in Yerevan. During 2009, authorities subjected citizens, particularly those considered by the government to be political opponents, to arbitrary arrest, detention, and imprisonment for their political activities; lengthy pretrial detention also continued to be a problem. Authorities continued to use harassment and intrusive application of bureaucratic measures to intimidate and retaliate against political opponents. Authorities used force to disperse political demonstrations and constrain citizens seeking to publicize them. Police beat pretrial detainees and failed to provide due process in some cases. The National Security Service (NSS) and police acted with impunity in committing alleged human rights abuses.
Armenian politics is winner-take-all, and this very much applies not only to the political spoils, but very often to the leading business and economic spoils as well. This is one reason that Armenian politics became so implacable.
The parliamentary factions of the ruling Republican Party and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), also known as Dashnaktsutyun, nominated former Prime Minister Armen Sarkisian for president. Sarkisian met with representatives of the two factions shortly before their 23 February 2018 vote. The Republican Party and Dashnaktsutyun are coalition partners. The move comes after Armenia’s outgoing President Serzh Sarkisian on January 19 named Armen Sarkisian as the Republican Party’s choice to succeed him. Armen Sarkisian, who is not related to the outgoing president, was Armenia’s prime minister from 1996 to 1997 when he resigned in the midst of a respiratory illness. He was Armenia's ambassador to the United Kingdom and, in accordance with recent constitutional reforms regarding the presidency, was not a member of any political party.
Following a referendum in December 2015, Armenia changed its form of government from a semipresidential to a parliamentary republic. As a result, presidential veto powers are being stripped from the post and the presidency is being downgraded to a figurehead position elected by parliament every seven years rather than a direct popular vote. The constitutional reforms coming into effect also limit an Armenian president to a single seven-year term. Sceptics saw the constitutional reforms as a way for incumbent President Sarkisian to maintain political control in Armenia by becoming prime minister when the mandate for his second five-year presidential term expired on April 9.
Armenia’s Republican Party controlled a simple majority in Yerevan’s 113-seat, single-chamber legislature and was expected to approve Armen Sarkisian as the next president in an early March vote. The Armenian parliament elected Armen Sargsyan – the only candidate considered by lawmakers on 02 March 2018 – as its next president. The 64-year-old diplomat was set to take over after the current president Serzh Sargsyan stepped down later in the month. Armen Sargsyan previously taught physics at Cambridge University, served three terms as Armenia's ambassador to the UK and filled other key diplomatic posts across Europe. The president-elect shares a last name with the strongman Serzh Sargsyan, but the two politicians are not related.
The new president was set to see his powers severely limited as the country implements a controversial constitutional reform in April. Under the reform initiated in 2015, the nation would transfer key elements of presidential authority to the prime minister, including the command of the army and the oversight of the security apparatus.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan refused to resign as the opposition demands. Armenia made peace with Azerbaijan and lost territories in Nagorno-Karabakh. Riots broke out in Yerevan. Russian peacekeepers were brought into the conflict zone. Commenting on the demands to leave his post, Pashinyan said: “My agenda includes only ensuring the stability and security of Armenia. There is no other issue on my agenda." On 09 November 2020, Pashinyan, together with the leaders of Azerbaijan and Russia, signed a statement to end the fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh. Under the terms of the document, Azerbaijani forces remain in the territories occupied by them during the hostilities. Three more regions will be transferred to Baku's control by December 1. Russian peacekeepers entered the region.
After Armenia’s devastating loss in the second Karabakh war, Pashinyan’s political future seemed over. He managed to stay in power, despite recent street protests and calls from the country’s generals for him to resign, and despite having cost Armenia most of Karabakh and shattering the illusion of the country’s military might.
In early December 2020, the leaders of 17 opposition parties joined forces and selected as leader Vazgen Manukyan, a veteran of the Karabakh movement who had served as minister of defense during the first, victorious Karabakh war of 1992–1994, when the territories now lost under Pashinyan’s command were captured. The united opposition issued an ultimatum demanding Pashinyan’s resignation. However, the prime minister simply ignored it with no consequences.
Power in Armenia should be transferred to the government of national accord. This was stated by the President of the country Armen Sarkissian during his address to the people. “The government must objectively assess its potential and present in a short time a roadmap for a number of constitutional processes, which will result in the possibility of holding early parliamentary elections. Before that, power in the country should be transferred to the highly qualified government of national accord,” Sargsyan said.
President Armen Sarkisian called for holding early parliamentary elections in Armenia, saying that they are needed to resolve a political crisis sparked by the war in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh. The elections would “save the country from upheaval” in the wake of the six-week conflict that resulted in Armenian territorial losses in and around Nagorno-Karabakh, Sarkisian said in a televised address to the nation late on 16 November 2020. He urged Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s government and My Step alliance to come up with a “road map” for the snap elections. They should be held by a new, interim “government of national accord,” Sarkisian added.
The opposition spent a long time planning an ambitious protest for February 20. Only between 13,000 and 20,000 people showed up, which was blamed on poor weather. On 25 February 2021, Armenian generals signed a collective letter calling for Pashinyan’s departure. Several dozen high-ranking military officers signed a letter accusing Pashinian and his government of bringing the country “to the brink of collapse” and said it “will no longer be able to make adequate decisions in this critical situation for the Armenian people." Yet that had no effect either: Pashinyan brought supporters to the streets — at least as many supporters as the opposition.
Pashinian said the move amounted to "an attempted military coup" and immediately fired Onik Gasparian, the chief of the military's General Staff. President Armen Sarkisian refused to sign off on the dismissal of the head of the country’s general staff whose firing by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian on February 25 prompted a political crisis. According to a February 27 statement posted on Sarkisian’s website, the president considered the firing of General Onik Gasparian unconstitutional.
Political tensions in Armenia remained high on March 1 with thousands of people joining rival political rallies in the capital, Yerevan. Opposition protesters continued to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian who rallied his supporters and said he was prepared to hold snap parliamentary elections if the opposition agreed to certain conditions.
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