Armenian PM steps down to seek stronger mandate from snap vote

Armenian PM steps down to seek stronger mandate from snap vote
Pashinian seen during the spring revolution in Armenia.
By bne IntelliNews October 17, 2018

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian announced on national television late on October 16 that he was resigning from his post to trigger the dissolving of parliament and early elections.

Pashinian, who rose to power in the spring after massive and persistent “people power” street demonstrations toppled the Republican Party (HHK) government, said the early vote was required "to return the entire power to the people". The former activist and opposition lawmaker has moved to secure the endorsement of a general election for his administration following his bloc's landslide victory in the mayoral race in the capital, Yerevan, in September. The HHK still have a majority in parliament, despite the people’s revolution.

Under the Armenian Constitution, snap elections can only be called if the prime minister resigns and the parliament fails to replace him or her with someone else within two weeks. New elections must then be held no earlier than in 30 days and no later than in 45 days.

In early October, the HHK, ARF Dashnaktsutyun and Tsarukyan parliamentary factions backed down after passing controversial legislation that would have made it more difficult for Pashinian to carry out his pledge to move for early elections. 

Pashinian said his government will "guarantee the free expression of the people’s will" in the general elections.

Prior to a government meeting on October 16, Pashinian said Armenia is entering “a new historical period” during which “it should complete the nonviolent velvet revolution that started in spring”, RFE/RL reported.

An overwhelming majority of Armenians view the government led by Pashinian positively, a poll released last week by the International Republican Institute's (IRI's) Center for Insights in Survey Research found. 

Kremlin’s feelings rather less clear
The feelings in the Kremlin towards the “People’s PM” are rather less clear. Pashinian’s moves against cronyism, corruption and former ruling politicians he accuses of human rights offences have ruffled plenty of feathers in the old establishment. In early September, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made it plain that Moscow is watching the situation carefully and described the South Caucasus country as “still boiling” following the revolution in late April and early May. 

However, on September 8, a closely watched September 8 Moscow encounter between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Pashinian resulted in both leaders praising the present state of relations between their two countries.

At the encounter, Pashinian noted that he was having his third meeting with Putin within just four months. “I think that such frequency emphasises the special nature of relations between our countries, let me say also the special nature of our personal relations,” he said.

“Despite certain pessimism that is present both in the Armenian and Russian press and in social media, I think that our relations are developing in a fairly dynamic way, very naturally," Pashinian said. "And I think our top objective is to try to use the whole potential in developing our relations.”

Pashinian nevertheless acknowledged the existence of "some questions" that need to be discussed by the two countries.

An Armenian government investigation into events surrounding the deadly post-election “Marti mek” demonstrations in 2008, including criminal charges being brought against former Armenian President Robert Kocharyan and current Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) chairman Yuri Khatchaturov, drew stinging criticism from Russia.

Kocharyan, who has filed a libel lawsuit against Pashinian, has since announced he is returning to politics. On August 31, the Kremlin reported a phone conversation between Putin and Kocharyan during which the Russian leader congratulated the former Armenian president on his birthday. This move, rare in state diplomacy, led to some analysts stating that Moscow was underlining its support for Kocharyan.