The ruling My Step faction of the National Assembly announced this week its intention not to pursue early parliamentary elections, retreating from Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s stated commitment to holding snap elections in 2021.
On February 7, the My Step party claimed that there is no demand for early elections among the general public. The party also noted that the PM’s proposal to hold early elections had not been met with a positive reaction from the parliamentary opposition. Instead, the party asserted that it would continue to work to implement the PM’s roadmap, a six-month agenda of political activities presented on November 18 to establish security and stability in the aftermath of the 2020 Artsakh War.
Opposition parties criticized the announcement, declaring that their support for early elections following the resignation of the PM and his administration has been steadfast since the end of the war. Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) Supreme Council of Armenia Chairman and coordinator of the Homeland Salvation Movement Ishkhan Saghatelyan expressed that there are three reasons behind the refusal to hold early elections. The first is that the PM recognizes that he would not win reelection. The second is that members of his party, whom he claims received their positions by riding into government on his coattails, feel the danger of losing their parliamentary mandate. The third is that the PM perceives that the opposition movement has died down.
“Not only did none of the opposition parties or parliamentary forces oppose early elections, but they also presented their demand and necessity, while setting forth a clear roadmap to their realization (removal, formation of interim government, snap elections),” stated Saghatelyan, announcing that the next Homeland Salvation Movement rally would take place on February 20.
Bright Armenia Party leader Edmon Marukyan called the announcement a “logical continuation of the administration’s manipulation,” stating that the ruling party is attempting to throw the ball into the opposition’s court. “In reality the ball has been in their court since November 10,” he asserted. “There is a public demand for their removal. That demand remains in effect.”
An opposition coalition of 17 political parties, including the ARF, the Republican Party and the Prosperous Armenia Party, was formed after the signature of the November 9 ceasefire agreement under the banner of the Homeland Salvation Movement to demand the removal of the PM and his administration. The movement has been calling for the creation of an interim government of national unity, led by Vazgen Manukyan, that would guide the country through the postwar crisis and organize snap elections.
PM Pashinyan had previously invited consultations with parliamentary and extra-parliamentary forces on holding snap elections. However, the opposition rejected this call, demanding his immediate resignation prior to any election.
On January 20, Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinyan shared that My Step had presented a memorandum to the Bright Armenia and Prosperous Armenia parties in which each would agree not to field prime ministerial candidates in case of the PM’s resignation. The opposition also refused this measure.
My Step holds a majority of 83 seats of 132 within the National Assembly. The Prosperous Armenia Party holds 24 seats, and the Bright Armenia Party holds 17. No other party within the opposition movement holds parliamentary seats. According to Article 149 of the Constitution, in case of the prime minister’s resignation, the National Assembly has two chances to elect a new candidate within seven days through a parliamentary majority. If a candidate is not elected, parliament is dissolved, and an election is called.
My Step’s announcement not to hold snap elections notably came days after former president Robert Kocharyan declared his intention to participate in elections for the position of prime minister.
Meanwhile the construction of homes for families from the Syunik province who lost their houses under the terms of the ceasefire agreement has begun. After visiting the communities of Vorotan and Shournoukh, Avinyan shared that each member of these families would receive a lump sum payment of 300,000 drams, as well as 68,000 drams per month for at least six months prior to the construction of their new homes, in order to compensate them for their losses.
A number of houses belonging to residents of border communities, including 12 homes in the village of Shournoukh, came under Azerbaijani control as a result of the border demarcation process. Under the ceasefire agreement, the regions of Zangelan and Kubatli were returned to Azerbaijan, creating a new border with Syunik. The team leading the demarcation process has been using GPS systems and geolocation to revive Soviet-era international boundaries, which do not reflect the realities of the expansion of villages beyond the border during the past three decades.
The construction of 12 homes with full amenities in Shournoukh began on February 5. Cattle barns are also being built nearby in order to promote agriculture. Residents of border villages employed land beyond the border as pasture prior to the war.
Finally, five Armenian prisoners returned to Yerevan on Tuesday in the course of another prisoner exchange between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Commander of the Russian peacekeeping continent in Artsakh, Lieutenant General Rustam Muradov, confirmed that one Azerbaijani prisoner was also transferred to Baku by Russian military aircraft.
In all, 10 of the 63 Armenian prisoners who were captured on December 11 following an attack by the Azerbaijani armed forces on the Hin Tagher and Khtsabert communities in the southern Hadrut district of Artsakh have returned home. The Azerbaijani government labels these hostages terrorists rather than prisoners of war, alleging that the attacks staged by the Azerbaijani military a month after the ceasefire agreement constituted an anti-terror operation.
The day before the latest prisoner exchange, Russian Ambassador to Armenia Sergey Kopyrkin stated that the issue of Armenian POWs is one of the highest priorities that is being resolved within the implementation of the ceasefire agreement. “I am not exaggerating when I say that this is really one of the priority issues that our president, our foreign minister, and our defense minister are personally dealing with,” he told reporters.
According to human rights attorney Siranush Sahakyan, as many as 223 Armenian captives might remain in Azerbaijan, most of whom were captured after November 9.