Armenia’s political climate has been uprooted by the mass protests dubbed Velvet Revolution that took place in April/May 2018, which resulted in deposing a president and government led by the Republican party for some 15 years. The mass protests were triggered by the announcement that then President Serzh Sargsyan would be seeking the post of PM after all, despite his earlier pledges not to. Sargsyan had overseen a constitutional amendment, accepted through a referendum in 2015, which transformed Armenia into a parliamentary republic in April 2018, at the same time as the election of the new prime minister. Most of the president’s power would be carried over to the new prime minister and his cabinet. The opposition had been critical, believing that this is simply an attempt by Serzh Sarkisian to remain in power in a different capacity after the end of his second and final presidential term. They were proven right with his sudden turnaround, triggering mass protests led by opposition politician Nikol Pashinyan. After weeks of peaceful mass protests Sargsyan was forced to resign, and Pashinyan was elected PM. In October Pashinyan stepped down so the parliament would be dissolved, thus paving the way for early elections. Pashinyan’s alliance won the elections, which for the first time were declared free and fair by international observers, convincingly, thus solidifying the results of the Velvet Revolution and demonstrating his immense popularity. He now has the mandate to fulfill all his promises of developing democracy and rule of law in Armenia.
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- 2,930.450 million (2017)
- Governmental Type:
- Parliamentary republic
- Ruling Coalition:
- Yelk Alliance
- Last Elections:
- 8 May 2018 (prime minister elections, by parliament)
- Next Elections:
- Late 2018
- Sister Parties:
- Armenian Revolutionary Federation - Dashnaktsutsyun
The Republican Party of Armenia dominated Armenian politics for decades. Chairman of the party, Serzh Sargsyan, became president in 2008. Under his rule, the grip of the party and its strongman over the country was solidified. Even though elections were generally viewed as fair and free, they weren’t competitive and there were many allegations of vote buying. The ruling party government with a majority in parliament, marginalizing the opposition. During the 2017 parliamentary elections, many parties in parliament lost all their seats. The Republican Party won an absolute majority and entered a coalition with the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutyun (ARF-D), as it had in 2012.
In this climate, protests sparked by civic initiatives became very common in Armenia’s capital Yerevan and Gyumri and Vanadzor, the second and third largest cities. These initiatives mainly have 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, prices of basic commodities, labour and employment issues, as well as human rights.
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 initiatives of recent years – with the biggest ones up until 2018 under the hashtags #NoToPlunder or #ElectricYerevan - have been at least partly successful.
In early April 2018 outgoing President Sargsyan was nominated by his ruling Republican Party as candidate for the post of Prime Minister. With an absolute majority in parliament, there was no doubt he would then be elected. This move was highly controversial. Sargsyan just ended his second and final presidential term in April 2018. During his term, he and the Republican party launched an initiative that would change the constitution and transfer crucial powers from the President to the PM. The opposition from the very start feared this was simply a ploy for Sargsyan to remain in power as PM, but when the constitutional changes were accepted during a referendum, Sargsyan had explicitly pledged not to seek the post of PM. When he did after all, in late March 2018, the move underlined the corruption and nepotism that had only solidified under Sargsyan’s rule.
In reaction to the nomination, opposition called for protests. Most notable was Nikol Pashinyan, MP and one of the leaders of Yelk, an opposition alliance of three parties (including Pashinyan’s own Civil Contract party), with 9 seats in parliament. In the following days large crowds gathered in central Yerevan, blocking its streets and intersections. This culminated in a march on parliament when Sargsyan was officially elected as PM in a parliament session, while the crowds faced off with a police cordon outside.
Apart from a couple of small clashes and some hard-handed arrests there were practically no cases of mass beatings or crackdowns. Within days the protests had not only spread to the outskirts of Yerevan but also to other cities and towns across the country. Attempted talk between Pashinyan and Sargsyan on April 22nd ended with the latter walking out after 3 minutes, angered by the presence of journalists and Pashinyans’ insistence on his resignation. After the talks Pashinyan and most leaders of the protest were arrested. Instead of demotivating the protesters, this caused a massive outpouring of unprecedented numbers of people into the streets, with students taking over the lead as the politicians were jailed.
Under this massive public pressure Sargsyan resigned his post while Pashinyan was released alongside other protest leaders hours earlier on 23rd April. The ruling Republican Party was not yet ready to give in, however. Calling for new PM elections within several days the party held on to its power. Pashinyan called for continues protests. Talks between the government and protest leader broke down on April 25. Pashinyan, enjoying the support of all parliamentary opposition parties and even former coalition partner of the Republican Party, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, announced his candidacy for PM. The vote on May 1st was inconclusive. The Republican Party didn’t bring forward their own candidate, while refusing to support Pashinyan. A new vote was set for May 8th. Finally, under continuing protests and increasing public pressure on its MPs, the Republican Party agreed to provide the needed votes in parliament for Pashinyan to become PM. The party said it would do so not out of support for Pashinyan, but in order to avoid a political crisis. Pashinyan won the vote on May 8th with 59 votes against 42. As Prime Minister, Pashinyan, promised to hold snap election as soon as possible. To make early elections possible Pashinyan resigned and therefore the parliament was dissolved and elections were required. The parliamentry elections took place the 9th of December and were won by Pashinyan's My Step Alliance.
Reports show that human rights violations remain an important issue in Armenia. The former authorities interfered in a number of peaceful protests that took place throughout the years. 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 former authorities were 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, was highly sceptical about former government’s assurances of intention to tackle corruption. Armenia ranked 107th out of 174 countries and territories evaluated in Transparency International’s 2017 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI).
The post-revolutionary government of PM Nikol Pashinyan has made human rights and a fight against corruption its key points, next to eradicating monopolies and separating business from politics.
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 made 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 former government initiated the process to join the Eurasian Economic Union. While PM Pashinyan has singled out the role of women in the Velvet Revolution, and expressed hope it was only the beginning of women’s active participation in politics, his cabinet includes only 2 female ministers of 20 total. He has apologized for this when confronted.
According to a Reporters Without Borders’ report regarding freedom of the media, there is a significant degree of pluralism and relatively little state censorship, as a law prohibits censorship in media. But still, there are laws through which defamation and libel can be punished by prison terms. Journalists have faced pressure, violence and charges under such laws. While it is too early to say whether and how the new government will affect change in this regard, it should be noted that PM Pashinyan, himself a former journalist, has so far been notably public and accessable to the media.
Armenia - EU relations
In the wake of a positive conclusion to four years of 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, after a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, suddenly decided to make Armenia a member 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. Since then, negotiations on the Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement were concluded on 26 February 2017, which reaches less far than the originally planned agreement but substitutes it in certain areas. It replaces the former EU-Armenia Partnership and Cooperation Agreement.
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.
The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is a conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the territory called Nagorno-Karabakh. An Armenian populated enclave within the internationally recognized borders of 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. The latest escalation was the so-called “April war”, in April 2016, when an attack by Azerbaijani forces resulted in some small territory loss for the Armenian side.
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. 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.
Peace negotiations mediated by the Minsk Group, under the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), have seen little progress.
Frustrated by the lack of a diplomatic solution, Azerbaijan's leadership has threatened to retake the territory militarily. 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. Not stabilizing the regional conflict, both countries have different supporters who are entangled in the dispute. Turkey has promised to stand with Azerbaijan while Russia pledged to defend Armenia. Furthermore, the conflict affects oil and gas exports from the region, since Azerbaijan produces much of the recourses which are being exported to Europe and Central Asia.
Armenia will change to a parliamentary representative republic in April 2018 after constitutional changes were adopted in 2015 following a controversial referendum with a voter turnout of only 51 percent, barely enough to make the vote valid. The president will remain the head of state and the head of government, but will hold mainly ceremonial powers. The executive power is exercised by the government, with the prime minister having the most influential position. The legislative power is exerted by both the government and the parliament. The parliament - National Assembly - consists of 101 MPs that are directly elected every five years through a two-tier proportional system which includes national and district candidates. Regulations are based on the constitution and the Electoral Code, amended in 2005. It also rules on details like the proportion of female and male MPs in the National Assembly and the voting eligibility for Armenians living abroad. The country has a multi-party-system, with a government usually consisting of a coalition, even if just a symbolic one: the ruling party usually manages to garner a majority on its own. The threshold to enter the parliament is 5% for single parties and 7% for blocs.
The constitutional referendum of 2015, which will turn Armenia into a parliamentary republic, has been critically viewed by the opposition. Outgoing president Serzh Sarkisian introduced the change and it is widely believed that he did so to remain in power in a different capacity after his final presidential term ends in 2018.
Nikol Pashinyan won convincingly with his My Step Alliance in the early parliamentary elections with 70.4% of the votes. With this win, Pashinyan has the majority in the parliament which gives him the opportunity to impose the demanded reforms of the Velvet Revolution last spring.
11 parties participated in the elections, but only two other parties beside the My Step alliance will enter the National Assembly: Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), led by tycoon Gagik Tsarukyan, with 8.4% and Bright Armenia, a former ally of Pashinyan’s, with 6.4%. The former ruling party, Republican Party (HHK), gained only 4.7% of the votes falling short of the required 5% threshold. Its occasional coalition partner, Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsyutsyun, also failed to pass the threshold gaining only 3.9%.
The turnout was 48.6% which is 12% lower than with the previous elections. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) observers called the elections “democratic”, saying they were held in freedom and there was genuine competition without vote buying and pressure on voters. The previous parliamentary elections were marked by fraud, but according to the OSCE this was not the case this time. They also noted the positive media environment, with many TV channels – including state channels – providing a reasonably balanced coverage. For the first time debates were held between the leaders of all participating parties.
The ousted HHK claims irregularities, but European observers said they saw no proof for those claims HHK and some other critics also accused Pashinyan of inflammatory rhetoric and even hate speech during the campaign. His rhetoric was dividing the society into “us” (those who supported the revolution) and “them” (those who support the Republican Party, unspecified oligarchs and corrupt officials).
All the parties who participated in the elections accepted the result. The Prime Minister will be appointed by the President. The candidate will be the one who is proposed by the majority, in this case that will be Nikol Pashinyan. The result of this election gives him a huge mandate to implement any and all reforms he envisions. His My Step does not plan to enter any coalitions.
Results Elections 2018
|My Step Alliance||70.43%|
|Prosperous Armenia Party||8.27%|
|Bright Armenia Party||6.37%|
|Republican Party of Armenia (HHK)||4.70%||0|
|Armenian Revolutionary Federation||3.89%||0|
|Sasna Tsrer Party||1.82%||0|
|Country of Law Party||0.75%||0|
Citizen's Decision Social Democrat Party
Christian-Democrat Rebirth Party
National Progress Party
On 2 March the National Assembly elected the country’s next president Armen Sarkissian (no relation to Serzh Sarkisian). Sarkissian was nominated for the post by the outgoing President Serzh Sarkisian and the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) in January 2018. He was also endorsed by the HHK’s junior coalition partner, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), and businessman Gagik Tsarukian’s alliance, which is officially in opposition to the government.
To win the election he needed three quarters of the parliamentarians to vote for him. Of those 79 seats, the ruling HHK and Dashnaktsutyun together have 65. 100 parliamentarians participated in the voting, 90 of them voting for and 10 against Sarkissian. Therefore, the faction led by businessman Gagik Tsarukian sided with the ruling parties, as already expected due to its missing support for the opposition Yelk alliance in going to court against the election. Important to notice are the three MPs of the HHK, Dashnaktsutyun and/or Tsarukian Bloc who voted against Sarkissian, noticeable because only 7 Yelk members participated in the vote. The election was held through secret ballot, so that the MPs remain unknown.
The opposition Yelk alliance, the fourth political group represented in parliament, has rejected Sarkissian’s candidacy. In a joint statement with several nongovernmental organizations it doubted his eligibility because, according to the constitution, one can only be elected if he or she has been an Armenian citizen for the past six years leading up to the election. Sarkissian, a former ambassador to the United Kingdom, has said he renounced his British citizenship in 2011 to re-adopt his Armenian passport, but the opposition found that a British local magazine published a record from the UK registry of companies referring to Sarkissian as a British national in 2014. The opposition has demanded proof of his claims from British authorities but since now he has failed to give it. As of March 2018, the issue has not been solved. Sarkissian’s presidential term will begin on 9 April.
UPDATE: Will new protests in Armenia against ‘counterrevolutionary bill’ lead to elections in December?
- 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