Protests In Armenia As Parliament Faces Deadlock Over Interim Prime Minister

On May 1, 2018, the Armenian parliament failed to vote in an interim prime minister. The only candidate was Civil Contract Party leader Nikol Pashinyan. Pashinyan needed at least 53 votes, but lost the vote 46-56, as the Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) holds 58 of 105 parliamentary seats. The RPA is united against Pashinyan, who led the protest movement against former president and prime minister, and RPA party leader, Serzh Sargsyan, forcing him to resign.

Pashinyan appeals to an overwhelming majority of the Armenian population because of his pledge to uphold democratic processes and institutions. His platform is based on overcoming dire needs of the population; his most prominent policy proposals being changing electoral codes to ensure free and fair elections and eradicating 30% of poverty through making use of the population’s skills, rather than relying on foreign aid. Many are leaving Armenia, especially youths, to pursue a better life. Pashinyan recognizes the need for domestic reforms to preserve the new generations.

Following the aftermath of the parliamentary votes, Pashinyan called for a nationwide protest to put pressure on parliament to listen to the will of the people. On May 2, Armenians blocked roads, airports, and government buildings. According to reports, over 95% of Yerevan streets were blocked. Pashinyan emphasized the importance of keeping protests and civil disobedience peaceful, and according to reports, “local residents [were] giving out strawberries and water to the demonstrators…Elsewhere, demonstrators were…dancing in the streets.”

Around the world, leaders are following this event. The EU and U.S. are encouraging civility and negotiation from all parties. Russia, especially, is anticipating the outcome, as Armenia is a former Soviet state and Sargsyan was a close ally of Putin’s. Pashinyan’s election is a considerable shift in power and will cause uncertainty in Russia’s relations with the country.

Protests against Sargsyan’s appointment as prime minister began on April 23 2018, one week after his appointment. Sargsyan previously stated he was not interested in becoming prime minister, but was appointed to the office just eight days after serving two five-year terms as president. The Armenian population saw this as an unconstitutional “power grab.” According to 2015 constitutional amendments, the prime minister is granted more power than the president. With Sargsyan as prime minister, there were concerns of an authoritarian rule being established; the Armenian population is invested in upholding a democratic state.

The following days will be crucial in determining Armenia’s future, as parliament is set to reconvene for a second round of votes on May 8. If it remains in deadlock, parliament will dissolve, and early elections will be held. This is not ideal, for failing to elect Pashinyan could result in a long-term political crisis since it would show parliament ignoring the will of the people and implies that they have no power. Pashinyan has secured the support of all opposition factions in parliament, but it remains to be seen if he will be able to do the same with the RPA. However, there is much to be said about the lack of violence, both on Sargsyan’s end in not attempting to cling to power, and in Pashinyan’s protest movement.

Sofia Lopez