‘Velvet revolutionary’ Pashinian clear victor in Armenia’s general election

‘Velvet revolutionary’ Pashinian clear victor in Armenia’s general election
Pashinian arrives with his wife and daughters to vote at a polling station in Yerevan.
By bne IntelliNews December 10, 2018

The My Step Alliance led by Armenia’s ‘velvet revolutionary’ Nikol Pashinian won 70.4% of the vote to win the Armenian parliamentary elections on December 9, according to the country’s Central Election Commission (CEC).

The centrist bloc, which includes Acting Prime Minister Pashinian’s Civil Contract Party, was declared the winner of the poll based on results from all polling stations, the CEC said.

Two moderate opposition parties—Prosperous Armenia led by tycoon and arm-wrestling champion Gagik Tsarukyan, which was part of the previous ruling coalition, and Bright Armenia, a liberal, pro-Western party—received enough votes to clear the 5%-threshold to enter parliament. The Republican Party (HHK), which dominated Armenian politics for two decades before the government was ousted during Armenia’s people power revolution led by former activist and newspaper editor Pashinian in the spring, took just 4.70% of the vote—it was not clear whether it would nevertheless manage to gain parliamentary representation in line with constitutional rules that mean 30% of seats in the 101-seat legislature must go to opposition parties.

Lot of optimism
Armenia's elections have in the past three decades become known for fraud and vote-buying, but there appears to be a lot of optimism that this one will prove to have been different. International observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) were among those monitoring the poll.

On the downside in the contest, turnout was low at around 49%. That likely reflected some complacency among potential voters that Pashinian’s bloc was the hot favourite to win and some despondency among remaining HHK voters who realised they were on a hiding to nothing.

Despite the revolution that cleared the way for Pashinian to form a government, parliament remained under the control of HHK. Pashinian thus called a snap general election to ensure parliament would shift to representing the new political realities in Armenia.

“Revolutionary majority”
“Armenian citizens have created a revolutionary majority at the parliament,” Pashinian told reporters at his bloc’s headquarters after first results were published, news agencies reported.

“If this trend continues, the majority won’t face any problems in implementing legislative changes,” he added.

Shortly after casting his ballot, Pashinian said: "After the elections, we will be developing Armenian democracy and make an economic revolution happen."

At a polling station in Yerevan, the BBC spoke to a voter who gave her name as Narine Harutyunyan. She said she felt "very optimistic," adding, "I hope that my vote is going to play a role so that there will always be a smile in the eyes of Armenians."

Garnik Arakelian, a 52-year-old painter, told AFP: "I want all those corrupt officials who for many years were robbing and humiliating people to be jailed."

Pashinian, 43, ascended to power promising to fight cronyism, corruption and monopolies and remedy human rights crimes of the past in the small, poor landlocked nation of less than three million people. He has called on members of Armenia’s diaspora—assessed by some estimates as numbering more than eight million people—to invest in the homeland’s rejuvenation.

Detention of Kocharyan ordered again
On the human rights front, December 7 saw an appeals court order the detention of former President Robert Kocharyan on charges of attempting to overthrow the constitutional order. He was first arrested in July but was then freed in August. The case was subsequently sent to the appeals court. Kocharyan served as president from 1998 to 2008. The charges relate to the “Marti mek” (“March 1”) bloody crackdown on mass protests in 2008 that broke out over a disputed election.

Moscow has observed Pashinian’s coming to power cautiously, but he has pledged that Russia, which has a military base in Armenia and delivers indispensable gas supplies, will remain Yerevan’s strategic ally. At the same time, the administration Pashinian ran before declaring a general election moved to strengthen relations with the European Union.

Pashinian has also indicated he would not change policy on the long-running issue of Nagorno-Karabakh, the mountainous breakaway territory occupied with ethnic Armenians which is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan.

The HHK has a long way to go to climb back into an influential position in Armenian politics. Lately, it has taken the line that Pashinian is developing a "cult of personality" that will weaken multi-party democracy. The party is counting on the "so-called post-revolutionary euphoria" dissipating, Armen Ashotyan, vice-president of the HHK, has told local media.