As of Tuesday, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) no longer has representation in the Pashinyan-led Armenian Government after two of its high-profile ministers relieved themselves of their duties during a political crisis that caused large-scale uproar in Yerevan.
This development comes after PM Nikol Pashinyan, who in the wake of a landslide victory in the Yerevan Municipal elections, announced his decision to move snap parliamentary elections to earlier in the year (from spring 2019 to December 2018). The announcement spurred a controversial response from parliamentarians in the Republican Party of Armenia (RPA), the Prosperous Armenia Party (PAP), and the ARF, who hastily pushed a bill that would delay and block such measures (the bill, received 65 votes in total). Currently, the 105 seats of parliament consist of 58 Republicans (who still maintain their pre-Velvet Revolution majority), 31 PAP members, nine Yelk (“Way Out”) bloc members, and seven ARF members.
Pashinyan condemned the bill—introduced jointly by the ARF, PAP, and RPA parliamentarians—as “counterrevolutionary” and called his followers into the streets. On Tuesday night, 100,000 people almost instantly mobilized and flooded the streets in support.
PM Pashinyan, addressing the thousands demonstrating, stated that the passage of this bill is a conspiracy against the supreme authority: the Armenian people. He also threatened to resign, telling the masses, “No one should think I cling to the Prime Minister’s seat.” For reference, if he were to resign, Parliament has two opportunities to choose a new prime minister within two weeks or the entire Parliamentary would be dissolved.
As of Wednesday, President Armen Sarkissian had not signed the controversial law that forced an eruption of protests in Yerevan.
Shortly after the mass demonstrations by citizens, the ARF Supreme Council of Armenia issued a statement dismissing Economy Minister Artsik Minasian and Agriculture Minister Artur Khachatrian, as well as the governors of two provinces. The council stressed that it supported extraordinary elections, just not immediate ones, arguing that elections should be pursued through negotiation, not by “violating the Constitution” according to an official statement.
“There has never been an attempt by us to prevent early elections. It’s not good to confuse the public with such statements,” Armen Rustamyan, head of the ARF faction in the NA, told reporters on Wednesday. “[We need] to decide how much time should be given, so that the public and political forces appropriately adapt to the new situation and participation conditions will be understood by all.”
Following the ARF’s dismissal of its ministers, Pashinyan called for the resignations of six ministers from his cabinet, which included the two ARF ministers that had already stepped down and four ministers from the PAP including Energy Minister Artur Grigorian, Transport Minister Ashot Akopian, Emergency Minister Grachya Rostomian and Sports Minister Levon Vagradian (whose names were promptly removed from the government’s website).
“There is a direct democracy in Armenia,” exclaimed Pashinyan during Tuesday’s parliament session.
Proponents of the bill argue that delaying elections was important in providing sufficient time to inform and educate voters on party positions before voting would take place. Critics of the bill, however, argue that the ARF is not new to the Armenian political arena and has had the time to establish its position with constituents. Many have pointed to Pashinyan’s landslide victory in the municipal elections as sufficient justification for hastening the snap elections.
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It’s 3:00am & I just got home after joining tens of thousands who once again peacefully stood up for justice, ethics, & democracy in #Armenia. The people are uprooting the last dregs of corrupt ‘leaders’ in government. And we paid tribute to #charlesaznavour while we were at it.
While encouraged by the results of the municipal elections, others say there’s still room for skepticism. While Pashinyan’s party won by 81 percent, it has been noted that voter turnout was only 45 percent (for reference, voter turnout in the United States was about 56-percent during the 2016 presidential elections; though nearby Georgia’s last November 2017 municipal elections yielded a voter turnout of 33-percent). Yuliya Lovochkina of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) political process is still low. Therefore it is essential that the “next parliamentary elections are perceived and accepted as democratic and fair by all political competitors.”
Despite recent events, Pashinyan—who recently met with leaders of the ARF in the United States in New York City during his visit to speak at the U.N. General Assembly—expressed an open-mindedness regarding the multifaceted and global nature of the ARF. In a parliamentary news conference, he stated that the party is “multi-layered” and “cannot be judged on all strata by actions of one layer.”