Special to the Armenian Weekly
After 11 days of unprecedented civil disobedience and protest in Armenia, the “Reject Serge [Sarkisian]” initiative led by Member of Parliament (MP) Nikol Pashinyan and his team, reached its first victory—the resignation of Prime Minister (PM) Sarkisian on April 23. The protest movement had already widened its scope the week before Sarkisian’s resignation, when Pashinyan had proclaimed the movement as a “Velvet Revolution” and set forth four demands to the ruling government.
These demands were also the necessary steps presented to the people as the way toward achieving a successful revolution:
Step 1: Serge Sarkisian’s resignation; (check)
Step 2: Set up an interim-government with the people’s choice as prime minister; (likely to be achieved)
Step 3: Interim-government must reform electoral code and the law on political parties;
Step 4: Free and fair elections must take place as soon as possible.
Pashinyan has called this a revolution because the end goal is “a forcible overthrow of a government or social order, in favor of a new system.” It has been repeatedly called a “Velvet Revolution” by Pashinyan due to its non-violent and constitutional nature reminiscent of the successes of Czechoslovakia in 1989. His proposed demands/steps currently seem to be the only legal and peaceful way to achieve such a revolutionary outcome.
From abroad, it seems to me that a mass education of the people has taken place on the streets during the rallies leading to a collective understanding that Sarkisian’s resignation doesn’t change much at all. There is a widely accepted fact that the political system in Armenia is functioning through clientelism and nepotism and is entrenched with semi-authoritarian control of the Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) over nearly all aspects of the state and its institutions which have seeped into citizens’ everyday relationship vis-à-vis the state. This corrupt system is what citizens want to change. It is generally understood that the goal of the movement is to sever the RPA’s control over state institutions and its bureaucrats and transfer the power [back] to the constitution (AKA the people).
Many have been wary of the bold and aggressive political decisions and statements Pashinyan has made since April 25, after deputy-Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan canceled their scheduled meeting to discuss next steps about forming an interim-government. Even the smallest possibility of negotiating a RPA led interim-government has been cleared off the table by the movement and has been perceived as too extreme by some of Pashinyan’s critics. However, the countrywide movement understands that they cannot achieve their fourth demand of free and fair elections with the rules of the game dictated by the RPA.
The RPA has proven to be untrustworthy in regards to implementing free and fair elections by consistently using their resources in their favor. They have engaged in high levels of vote-buying; ballot stuffing; identity fraud; forging voter registration of deceased and non-resident citizens; threatening state and non-state employees who don’t vote accordingly; and utilizing local mayors, state employees, and business and criminal segments to implement all of the above. Most especially, they have used the Central Electoral Commission and law enforcement to help facilitate and allow their activities to be “legalized” and go unpunished. With all this and more, Armenian citizens are convinced that the RPA is no longer trustworthy in guiding such a reform process.
The movement has been bold—Pashinyan has stated during a rally in Gyumri that either he will be PM on May 1 or no one will. May 1 would be the first attempt toward achieving the next three steps of the revolution when Armenia’s National Assembly expects to vote on an interim-PM. Pashinyan has put forward his candidacy via the overwhelming approval of the people and has direct support in receiving votes by the Tsarukyan faction led by Prosperous Armenia Party and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF). Considering the RPA has stated that they will not put forward a candidate and “not try to prevent a joint candidate,” Pashinyan will likely be the next PM of Armenia.
I think one of the first major questions that will come up after this post May 1 interim-government will relate to which political factions will control which ministries. Will a Pashinyan-led government have room for a Ministry led by an RPA member? And how will the institutions most relevant to elections (i.e. Central Electoral Commission) be restructured?
Despite their recent face saving policies, will the RPA provide the satisfactory votes needed to reform the electoral code when it is up for vote? What are those reforms going to look like? Are they really needed and will they effectively change the institutions who are accountable to the law in a country where the law has become of secondary importance? How long until parliamentary elections take place? How will the PM react and reprimand the RPA or Prosperous Armenia when they offer money or free food and goods during their campaign rallies before the next election? It seems some of this is being dealt with and the we will learn through time, but it’s clear these will be only some of the major challenges and questions that the Armenia of the next month or so will be facing. Let us hope Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev allows Armenia to fix shop before any soldiers are killed.
If the revolution successfully accomplishes Step 4, the “New Armenia” that many believe to have entered is supposed to have its most representative parliament yet, with its parties having to listen to the voices of its citizens more than to oligarchs and their personal interests. I believe one of its major goals is to make the painful political process of forming coalitions and receiving necessary votes for this or that legislation to become an ordinary aspect of Armenian political culture. It will signal the end of paternalism and a curated development of a country led by one or a handful of men. Despite all this, the stakes are high with the hopes and desires of an entire country riding on the outcome of the revolution.
The “Velvet Revolution” intends to transfer power into the hands of the people and their constitution. Whatever your ideological leanings are, the revolution is loud, bold, determined, and very Armenian.