Armenia political crisis deepens

Armenian opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan has failed in his bid to become interim prime minister short of eight votes. The next step in legal procedure is the second Parliament sitting in a week time, expected to end in the similar stalemate, leading to dissolving of the institution, and snap elections. However, Republicans hope to organise the process, continuing to cling to power against all odds.

After a day of debate in the Parliament, Pashinyan  didn’t receive enough support despite being the only candidate for the post, while collecting 45 votes, eight short of the 53 he needed to have a majority in the 105-seat legislature. 

In  a very intense and sharp debate all parties had a consensus on keeping the matter as ‘interior policy problem’, without challenging any issues of foreign policy, and respecting international agreements and obligations, namely vis-à-vis Russia, the European Union, the Council of Europe and the other international organisations. They also agreed that the only way of the impasse lies though general elections.

However  the ruling Republican party was not willing to abandon power without resistance, motivating their disagreement to endorse the candidacy of Pashinyan as interim PM in his lack of a governing experience, especially taking into consideration complexity of military-political situation with  the frozen conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. The denial allowed Pashinyan to remind to his opponents that  Nelson Mandela became South African President after long stay in prison brought to power by will of people, which is a decisive force in a democratic process. In his exchange with MP he also presented his views on a broad spectrum of issues, including Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, relations with Russia, Georgia, and denied any personal contacts with Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny and Georgia’s Mikhail Saakashvili.

“Grilled” in a tough American style by MPs  Pashinyan said he would increase defence budget, blaming that last 15 years government failed to level military might with Azerbaijan. He also vowed to create conditions for repatriating Armenians from abroad, including those who would bring investments, linking the process to a substantial reform of system of justice, liberating it from its ‘totalitarian mentality‘. He put to shame Republicans, blaming them temptation to curb the judiciary to serve their political interests, even degrading to keeping ‘prisoners of thought’. The substantial amount invested in judiciary was spent on exterior – buildings and judges outfits, but not on establishing of its independence, he added.

An issue of ethnic minorities took a special place in a debate: Pashinyan insisted they don’t have political freedoms, and are almost obliged to be loyal to a dominant political force, the practise he would certainly end, opening to them an opportunity to join political life, and to choose freely, including joining the opposition.

However it was the question of children and youth that fueled most anger from the Republicans who considered Pashinyan  crossed red lines, inviting schoolchildren to join the protests. They received an answer that it is an experience, and education of civility, which would stay with them, and hopefully pass on to the future generations. The position forced one of the MPs to leave the audience in a protest for 10 minutes.

The rejection of Republicans to accept  the will of people, endorsing the only candidate as an interim PM to organise snap elections, caused the continuation of protests.

Pashinyan called the citizens to go on with actions of civil disobedience, he also addressed transport workers asking to join the strike to ensure a total paralysis, forcing ruling party of Republicans to accept the democratic transition without further delay.

 

 

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#Armenia unexpected break away

Today’s vote at noon in Armenian parliament electing Prime Minister is crucial for the future of Armenians, but also the Caucasus, and the Kremlin, gradually losing influence in the region. While oil-rich Azerbaijan manifests its affiliation with Turkey, and Georgia is open about is ambition to join NATO, Armenians, as the last ally of Russia in the region abruptly, and unexpectedly are breaking away led by an opposition politician Nikol Pashinyan,  who has never been hiding his pro-European stance.

Massive street manifestations are rather startling as a phenomenon for the ex-Soviet Republic, where leaders are not used to democratic accountability. At first glance the current turmoil came as a result of a political miscalculation of a former President Serzh Sargsyanwho ‘mechanically’ applied Kremlin scheme of moving from President’s to Prime Ministers chair to continue his unchallenged rule from a different office interior decorations.

The scenario was clearly not appreciated by Armenians, who considered the manipulation as a fraud: while reforming the country from a presidential to a parliamentary republic, Sargsyan ensured citizens, that he is not going to claim any more mandates.  But later he broke his promise arranging  for himself the Prime Minister’s chair, and fueling the indignation of Armenians, who streamed into the streets, manifesting their protest.

However there is more to indignation of Armenians than discontent with their former President attempt to impose himself in Vladimir Putin‘s style as a tsar or an eternal ruler. There is an entire rejection of outdated Russian authoritarian system, plagued with corruption and nepotism. If in the Soviet era the information flows were under strict control of the Communist party, nowadays it is increasingly difficult to govern neglecting ‘demos‘, who is intensely communicating with each other via smartphones.

In age of Digital revolution, when people can easily find an alternative information via internet, the role of Armenian diaspora in Europe and the USA is not the least factor to contribute public opinion disposition. People to people contacts with friends and family members, sharing experiences of life in democratic societies became an efficient engine of progress, shifting Armenians away from outdated authoritarian rule of heirs of Soviet nomenklatura. 

The experts would say that Russia can not be rapidly removed or replaced or abandoned due to its status in resolution of Nagorno-Karabakh frozen conflict, offering to Armenia military and political guarantees, through Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). And they are right. Pashinyan has already confirmed that in case his party leads the country, no changes will be introduced to its membership in both CSTO (‘Tashkent Treaty’), or Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).

However, now it is too early for Pashanyan to reveal his real aims.

Unlike Sargsyan, he did not fight in Nagorno-Karabakh (NK), and does not have any personal affiliation to the region claiming independence. Like many of Armenians of his generation he presumably wishes to move on with the resolution of the conflict, inclining to a compromise to end the stalemate, and isolation of his country in the Caucasus. Subsequently in coming years it will be increasingly difficult for Kremlin to keep the alliance with #Yerevan, in total absence of incentives, relying only on protracting the NK stalemate.

The entire situation with street protests in Armenia is a definite indicator of Russia‘s loss of influence in the region and an absolute decline. It is reminiscent of the other colored revolutions in ex-Soviet Republics, coming as unpleasant surprise to Kremlin inhabitants unable to understand the people’ rejection of their obsolete modus vivendi on the ruins of Soviet Empire in a perimeter protected by ballistic missiles. The very same missiles which did not save their predecessors from collapse.