In recent years, Armenia failed in its attempt to sign an EU Association Agreement. Instead, on 2 January 2015, the country became a full member of the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union. Nevertheless, Armenia continues to seek deeper cooperation with the EU, and is planning to sign an agreement in lieu of an Association Agreement, which will be less far reaching. The country remains strongly dependent on Russia in terms of energy supply and security, which is the main obstacle for further integration in the West. Russia's military presence is very important because of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict where Armenia and Azerbaijan have been fighting for over two decades with not much success to settle a peace agreement.
Internally, Armenia has been receiving relatively positive assessments of its democratisation process; the run up to national elections has been quite free and fair in recent years, even if the election day itself would usually be marked by falsifications. A recently passed constitutional amendment will transfer Armenia into a parliamentary republic in 2018, with the sweeping powers of the president transferred to the PM and cabinet. The opposition has been critical, believing that this is simply an attempt by the current President Serzh Sarkisian to remain in power in a different capacity after the end of his second and final presidential term.
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- 3,051,250 million (CIA Factbook 2016 est.)
- Governmental Type:
- Presidential Representative Republic (to be transformed into parliamentary in 2018)
- Ruling Coalition:
- RP, ARF
- Last Elections:
- 2 April 2017 (parliamentary elections)
- Next Elections:
- February 2018 (presidential elections)
- Sister Parties:
- Armenian Revolutionary Federation - Dashnaktsutsyun
Recent reports show that human rights violations remain an important issue in Armenia. Authorities interfered in a number of peaceful protests that took place throughout the year. In several instances, police dispersed protesters using force. Local human rights defenders continued to raise concern over high numbers of reported beatings and ill-treatment in police custody.
The US State Department has noted “systemic corruption” as one of the most frequent and serious forms of human rights violation in Armenia, saying the authorities are not doing enough to tackle it. Local anti-graft watchdogs like the Anti-Corruption Center (ACC), which operates as the Armenian branch of Transparency International, are highly sceptical about government assurances of intention to tackle corruption. Armenia ranked 94th out of 174 countries and territories evaluated in Transparency International’s 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI).
Violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity are serious problems as well. A few incidents were recorded when women’s rights activists were threatened and assaulted, as well as threats to Women’s Resource Centre following its calls for gender equality legislation. The anti-discrimination draft bill, prohibiting all forms of discrimination, was abandoned after the government initiated the process to join the Eurasian Economic Union.
According to Reporters Without Borders’ recent report regarding the freedom of media, there is a significant degree of pluralism and relatively little state censorship, but journalists continued to face pressure and violence from pressure groups.
During the 2013 elections, international observers noted that the vote was well-administered and that authorities had demonstrated a general respect for freedom of assembly and expression. However, pressure on voters, with the use of administrative resources, and interference in the voting process remained concerning. As in previous elections, observers noted procedural violations and irregularities in the tabulation of votes. Grave violations were observed on election day, particularly regarding the interference by proxies from the ruling party.
Armenia - EU relations
In the wake of a positive conclusion to four year during negotiations between Armenia and the EU on an Association Agreement, it seemed that Armenia could start to look forward to deeper cooperation with the EU, which would hopefully bring strong economic and political benefits. However, only months before the planned signing of the Association Agreement, President Serzh Sarkisian suddenly decided to make Armenia a part of the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) instead, thereby precluding the AA. On 2 January 2015, Armenia became a full member of EEU. The move is widely believed to be the result of strong Russian pressure in the areas of economy, energy and security.
On 29 November 2013, an EU-Armenia joint statement was adopted at the Vilnius Summit reconfirming the commitment of the parties to further develop and strengthen comprehensive cooperation in all areas of mutual interest. Armenia and the EU are committed to further cooperation aimed at the continuous improvement of areas including democratic institutions and judiciary, promotion of human rights and rule of law, good governance, fight against corruption, strengthening of the civil society, and others. Armenia and the EU plan to sign a cooperation agreement that would substitute the failed Association Agreement, but in a major change from the AA, the new agreement will not include a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) between the EU and Armenia.
The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is a conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the territory called Nagorno-Karabakh. An Armenian populated enclave in Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh, has been de facto independent from Azerbaijan since the war in the early 1990s, that ended with a truce signed in 1994. The now 'frozen conflict' has been ongoing for over two decades without a peace agreement. There are still frequent shootings across the frontline, with dozens of deaths each year. Each side blames the other for military casualties. Azerbaijan lost swathes of territory during the conflict, and more than 600,000 ethnic Azeris from Karabakh and nearby regions were forced to flee. More than 300,000 ethnic Armenians who used to live in Azerbaijan were also displaced by the conflict.
Peace negotiations mediated by the Minsk Group, under the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), have seen little progress. Internationally, Nagorno-Karabakh is considered part of Azerbaijan, but its Armenian inhabitants call themselves citizens of the Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) Republic. Although self-governed, it depends financially and militarily on Armenia. Frustrated by the lack of a diplomatic solution, Azerbaijan's leadership has threatened to retake the territory militarily. Oil-rich Azerbaijan has spent billions of US dollars on modern weaponry. Most of the arms are supplied by Russia, which has caused deep concern in Russia’s official military ally, Armenia. Armenia believes that the conflict settlement should be based on the Nagorno-Karabakh people's right to self-determination and uninterrupted land communication with Armenia, under jurisdiction of the Armenian side. Armenia also seeks international guarantees for the security of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Since 2010, protests sparked by civic initiatives have become very common in Armenia’s capital Yerevan and, to a lesser extent, in the smaller cities of Gyumri and Vanadzor. These initiatives have mainly been organised by a post-Soviet generation of young civic activists without any political party affiliation, and address a range of issues including the environment, cultural preservation, consumer rights, labour and employment issues, as well as human rights. However, they are distinct from formal, professionalised NGOs in a number of key aspects, which include the issues they address, their organisational structures, their repertoires of action, and their lack of engagement with foreign donors. Although civic initiatives in Armenia address very specific and sometimes narrowly focused issues (e.g. saving a waterfall, public park, preventing a public transport price hike etc.), their emergence is informed by and articulates much broader concerns about corruption, the absence of rule of law, lack of democracy, rise of oligarchic capitalism, and the failure of formal political elites to address the concerns of ordinary Armenian citizens.
The introduction and spread of social media, including Facebook and YouTube, as well as live-streaming technology has allowed civic activists to access information more easily and to organise and mobilise much more effectively and rapidly. Most of the recent initiatives – with the biggest ones under the hashtags #NoToPlunder or #ElectricYerevan - have been at least partly successful. The government was forced to negotiate to reach a compromise. This new social phenomenon in Armenia is becoming a bigger force than the opposition parties, hence, parties have tried to jump on the bandwagon and join the protesters. However, since the activists do not label themselves as any kind of organisation, it remains unclear how they should be dealt with, how they should be referred to, and what their role is in current politics of Armenia.
Armenia is a presidential representative republic. The president is the head of state and the head of government. The executive power is exercised by the government, the legislative power by both the government and the parliament. The parliament - National Assembly - consists of 131 deputies that are directly elected every five years. The Electoral Code, amended in 2005, provides for the deputies to be elected according to a mixed electoral system. 90 deputies represent the parties or blocs that have overcome the 5 percent and 7 percent voting threshold, respectively. They are elected on a proportional basis. The other 41 deputies are elected from single-mandate constituencies by means of a one-round majoritarian system.
Since the constitutional amendments of 2005, political parties have gained power with respect to the years before 2005. The influence of the president has therefore diminished compared to the power of the political parties. Groups in parliament have changed, new ones have been formed and oligarchs gained influence over politics. New political parties were created based on economic power, rather than on political ideology. Still, most parties present themselves with a certain ideological background. Following another constitutional amendment, passed in a national referendum in 2015, Armenia is set to become a parliamentary republic after the end of the second and final presidential term of current President Serzh Sarkisian. The opposition has been critical of this, believing it is simply a way for Sarkisian to remain in power in a different capacity after his final presidential term ends in 2018.
On 2 April 2017, Armenia held parliamentary elections, which brought a large victory for the ruling party, giving the Republican Party (Hayastani Hanrapetakan Kusaktsutyun, HHK) of president Serzh Sarkisian an absolute majority in the parliament. The HHK will most likely seek a coalition with the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutyun (ARF-D), which gained 6,6% of the vote, repeating the situation in 2012, when the two parties also formed a coalition. Main opposition alliance led by billionaire Gagik Tsarukyan won 27.3% of the votes, and the new Yelk (Way Out) Alliance about 7%. This leaves several parties and alliances, such as the Free Democrats Party, Armenian Renaissance Party, Communist Party of Armenia, Armenian National Congress-People’s Party of Armenia Alliance and the Ohanyan-Raffi-Oskanian Alliance without any seats in the parliament, as they were unable to reach the required 5 to 7% of the votes. These are the last elections before Armenia changes from a semi-presidential to a parliamentary system. The change is following a controversial referendum on constitutional change held in December 2015, where the voter turnout was only 51 percent, barely enough to make the vote valid. This parliament will be the first parliament to have more power than the president. The change is following a controversial referendum on constitutional change held in December 2015, which had a very low voter turn-out. Critics say this change will enable the current president to stay in power in another capacity. This parliament will be the first parliament to have more power than the president, so the major win of the Republican Party is all the more significant for the continuation of its power in the coming years.
During this campaign, candidates tried to get the direct support of the voters on the street, taking selfies and shouting slogans with megaphones, hoping to convince their citizens to vote for them. This major attention for the voters is the result of the constitutional amendments, changing the current semi-presidential system to a parliamentary system. Another development, competition between candidates of the same party, is the result of the 2016 Electoral Code, allowing up to 15 candidates from each party in each of Armenia’s voting districts, instead of only one candidate. Due to this extra competition, more incidents of violence were reported: Supporters of a candidate of the HHK allegedly beat up the campaign manager of another HHK candidate from the same district. In addition to the question whether parties were oriented towards the West or more pro-Russian, the common theme throughout all the campains were the economic problems that Armenians face in their day-to-day lifes.
About 60 percent of the Armenians voted in the parliamentary elections. While some opposition leaders immediately claimed fraud, the aftermath of the elections was remarkably calm. This had to do with the new Electoral Code, which was amended to prevent fraudulent practices during the elections under a historic deal reached between the opposition and the ruling party. It allowed the installation of 1500 webcams in the polling stations, as well as the introduction of electronic voter authentication devises with finger-print recognition software. The technical equipment was paid for by the European Union and the United States. There were some technical problems, including the devises being unable to even recognize the fingerprint of president Sarkisian. Also, online live streams of the webcams at the polling stations was unavailable during the morning. Yet, it seems to be one of the most credible elections in years in Armenia.
Monitoring mission report
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) had 300 election observers in place, and the Citizens Observer, an Armenian civil society organization and watchdog group had 3000 people who monitored the election. They both reported instances of vote buying, voter intimidation and presence of unauthorized persons in the voting stations, but they were mildly positive about the 2016 Electoral Code. “There is little doubt that, since the last time the citizens of Armenia voted, efforts have been made, including through logistical improvements, to raise the quality of the electoral process. The authorities should be praised for working to inform the electorate of this new, quite complex, electoral legislation. It is a pity that, despite all of the legal and organizational changes, these elections did not remove long-standing doubts about the reliability and integrity of electoral processes in the country,” said Liliane Maury Pasquier, Head of the delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. “The use of new voting technologies cannot alone restore confidence in elections – crucial in a genuine democracy – just the same as better legislation is only effective if applied in good faith.”
Results Elections 2017
|Republican Party of Armenia (HHK)||49.17%||58|
|Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutyun (ARF-D)||6.58%||7|
|Free Democrats Party||0.94%||0|
|Armenian Commmunist Party||0.75%||0|
|Armenian National Congress-People’s Party of Armenia Alliance||1.66%||0|
On 18 February 2013, Armenia held presidential elections. The elections were easily won by incumbent President Serzh Sargsyan, backed by his Republican Party. He was re-elected for another term of five years. Observers of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said the election process ‘had improved’, but was lacking competitiveness: three major opposition forces – Armenian National Congress (HAK), Armenian Revolutionary Federation Dashnaktsyutsyun and Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) - did not participate or back other candidates The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) observation mission described the elections as free, transparent and competitive. The election was, nevertheless, overshadowed by some serious incidents regarding challenging opposition candidates.
The official results showed that Serzh Sargsyan won the election with some 58 percent of the votes, enough to win the presidency outright. Former Foreign Minister Raffi Hovhannesyan came in second with about 37 percent of the votes. Voter turnout was 60 percent. Nevertheless, the opposition was weakened by the refusal of some potential challengers to participate in the elections. Candidate Paruir Hairikyan was shot in the shoulder in an assassination attempt in January. Another presidential candidate, Andreas Ghukasyan, went on a hunger strike. Major potential challengers, former president Levon Ter-Petrossyan, backed by the Armenian National Congress, and Gagik Tsarukyan of the Prosperous Armenia Party, refused to compete, because they expected the election to be rigged.
Serzh Sarkisian hailed the results, thanking his voters and stating "these elections once again proved in the most responsible moments Armenian people can come together and make the right decisions". Raffi Hovhannisyan contested the results, however, as he refused to concede defeat and has accused the authorities of carrying out fraud to ensure Sarkisian receives another five-year term. Officials have acknowledged reports of violations, but have rejected claims of a voting fraud conspiracy.
- International Crisis Group, Armenia: Internal Stability Ahead
- National Statistical Service of the Republic of Armenia
- Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty, several articles
- Transitions online, several articles
- Wikipedia, Politics in Armenia
- Central Asia-Caucasus Institute
- The Economist
Information on elections:
- The Central Election Committee
- Wikipedia, Elections in Armenia
- OSCE, Parliamentary Elections 2007, Final Report
- European Commission, European Neighbourhood Policy
- EU relations with Armenia
- Armenian Assembly of America
- Political resources on the net
- Central Election Committee, Parliamentary Elections 2003, Parties and Blocs