Democracy Armenian-style: what’s ahead for Nikol Pashinyan?
By Elkhan Nuriyev
The Armenian prime-minister Nikol Pashinyan is currently in a difficult political situation. His team has been unsuccessful to cope with a number of acute problems, which have led directly to conflict of powers and institutional crisis.
A litany of disappointed expectations
In the wake of the 2018 “Velvet Revolution,” high hopes initially rested on the reform forces, not only in the country itself but also in the West. Now, however, the lost war in Karabakh, along with a vague and inconsistent foreign policy, including excessive concentration of power that was already visible last year, have undermined public confidence in Pashinyan. Local opposition forces, on the other hand, have stepped up their activities. At the same time, the current authorities have grossly miscalculated due to their inability to implement serious political and socioeconomic reforms, despite Pashinyan’s promises to transform the country peacefully and democratically.
This was in line with what the wider public expected of him right from the start. In the end, however, many reforms were limited to the ostentatious fight against bribery and corruption. The opposition parties ultimately heavily criticized the government program for lacking structure, for failing to address the country’s economic and social challenges, and for failing to include mechanisms and timelines for achieving its goals.
The political weakness of the reform forces was exemplified by the attempt to restructure the uncontrollable Constitutional Court and oust its chairman, Hrayr Tovmasyan. In this context, Pashinyan directly attacked almost the entire former ruling elite. Back in the summer of 2019, when the Constitutional Court sent one of the complaints filed by former Armenian President Robert Kocharyan’s lawyers to the Venice Commission and the European Court of Human Rights, Pashinyan took it as a personal challenge.
Supported by the Soros Foundation (Open Society Foundation/OSF), he immediately initiated the constitutional reform. Pashinyan openly declared his intention to get rid of the stubborn and illegitimate Constitutional Court, as it did not enjoy the trust of the Armenian society. Shortly before the reforms were launched, however, OSF representatives noted that the new government was allegedly too weak in responding to attacks from opponents of the constitutional amendments.
Armenia’s constitutional crisis
The result of this confrontation was a constitutional crisis involving the European Union. During deliberations on the reform, Pashinyan’s entourage repeatedly accused the president of the Venice Commission, Gianni Buquicchio, of corruption, hinting at his contacts with the former Armenian government and his interest in the preservation of authority of the Constitutional Court of Armenia. Because Pashinyan initiated changes to the country’s basic law for political reasons, contrary to the recommendations of the Venice Commission, the EU suspected him of deviating from European standards. Overall, Pashinyan has mostly failed to defeat corrupt officials.
The enormous public disillusionment with the surrender in Karabakh is now fuelling the political debacle. As a result, representatives of the old elite are trying to use the momentum to regain power. Just recently, ex-presidents Robert Kocharyan and Serzh Sargsyan as well as leaders of major opposition parties met to discuss further actions they plan to take against Pashinyan starting February 20.
The authoritarian face of Pashinyan
Afraid of being overthrown, incumbent prime minister has started using harsh, authoritarian methods in dealing with peaceful demonstrators. Since signing the Nagorno-Karabakh ceasefire agreement on 10 November 2020, there have been numerous protest actions and street rallies in Yerevan and other cities, demanding the resignation of Pashinyan. Several hundred demonstrators, including the leading opposition figures have been detained by the Armenian police for their participation in the protests. Pashinyan’s desperate efforts to cling to power are increasingly at odds with the ideas of the 2018 “Velvet Revolution,” which ultimately brought him to power with promises of reform and an emphasis on European values.
From today’s perspective, however, it appears that seizing power was Pashinyan’s most important goal from the very beginning. His declared intention to import a Western model of democracy has not only failed, but he also now faces the accusation of having merely replaced the old system of injustice with a new one.
Pashinyan’s reform process was marked by difficulties and contradictions from the outset. Ultimately, nevertheless, it was primarily the political dynamics resulting from Armenia’s enormous losses in the 44-day war against Azerbaijan in November 2020 that revealed the total fiasco of Pashinyan’s domestic and foreign policies. The ensuing internal violence has the potential to permanently destroy the democratic dreams of the Armenian nation. Whether or not a new attempt at regime change in post-war Armenia will be successful is yet to be seen. At this point, though, the ongoing crisis has long heralded the end of the Pashinyan era.
“DER STANDARD”: https://www.derstandard.at/story/2000124069997/demokratie-auf-armenisch-was-kommt-als-naechstes-fuer-premier-nikol
Dr Elkhan Nuriyev is a long-time expert member of the Partnership for Peace (PfP) Consortium’s Study Group on Regional Stability in the South Caucasus at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. In 2020, he worked as an Eastern Europe-Global Area (EEGA) Fellow at Leipzig University. In 2019, he was a Humboldt Senior Fellow at the Centre for East European and International Studies (ZOiS) in Berlin.
For more details, see https://www.leibniz-eega.de/people/eega-fellows/postdocs/elkhan-nuriyev/