Voters in Armenia cast ballots on Sunday to elect a new parliament nearly seven months after the Velvet Revolution, which changed the country’s leadership. Ballots cast are still being counted, but the Central Election Commission has reported that more than one third of those counted suggest a landslide win (roughly 70 percent of the vote) for the My Step Alliance, the party of Nikol Pashinyan, who became prime minister after leading the “people’s movement” back in April.
Gagik Tsarukian’s Prosperous Armenia Party is a distant second with 8 percent of the vote, followed by the Bright Armenia Party, allied to Pashinyan, who is slated to reach about 6 percent. The Republican Party and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation have both not yet reached 5 percent of the vote, the legal threshold required in order to secure representation in Armenia’s National Assembly. Thus, both parties are at risk of not having a member in Parliament.
For the Republican Party this is a resounding defeat, a very steep dramatic fall from governing to not even having a member in Parliament. A sad ending. The ARF paid a high price for its affiliation with the Republican Party. Also, it too heavily relied on its past history, running a campaign that not only did not reach young people, but did not have a message that resonated. The ARF will have to go through a deep soul-searching, possibly a change of leadership, and come up with a new strategy in the political arena of Armenia. Its track record of glorious achievements in the past, it appears, will not get votes in the present.
There are some further considerations, however, which require explanation. Voter turnout at these elections was low, at 48.6 percent, down from 61 percent reported in the last parliamentary elections held in April 2017. The reasons for such apathy and lack of participation are not yet clear, though Pashinyan suggested in a live Facebook transmission that the turnout may have been lower because voters are no longer being paid or bribed by the Republican Party.
This is an unfair reflection of the voting populace. Money could not have been the only factor. The weather might have influenced voters as it was rainy and snowy and polls had forecasted My Step Alliance was going to win the elections based on the outcome of Yerevan’s mayoral elections. Pashinyan and his party did have very popular support and the election was not focused on issues and challenges facing the nation, but rather, on slinging mud at one another.
The political landscape has completely changed, but yet, in some ways, it remains the same. After several elections in which Kocharian and Sarkissian had been elected Presidents, the Republican Party not too long ago had majority in the Parliament with no effective opposition countering them. Now, Pashinyan’s party will have absolute majority in the newly elected parliament with no meaningful opposition of any kind. Weak or no opposition does not bode well for a healthy democracy. The absence of counterweight and checks and balances leads to a usurping of power by the ruling majority.
Tsarukian called on the parties, saying, “If we want things to get better, we must be united.” Unless there is unity of common purpose and vision, the concern is that things might not get better. For the benefit of the whole Nation, it is crucial that this new government be successful in this.