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Parliamentary Elections in Armenia – The Triumph of the Governing Party

2017 / 04 / 13

Author:  Giorgi Turmanidze

Parliamentary elections were held in Armenia on 2 April 2017. These were the first elections held in Armenia after the constitutional reform, based on which Armenia will transfer from Presidential to Parliamentary model from 2018. The results of the election determine not only who is going to be in the Parliament or the Cabinet, but also the identity of the new President, as in 2018, after Serzh Sargsyan’s Presidential tenure expires, the Parliament will be the one electing the new President.

 

Vague Electoral System

The elections were held according to the new electoral system, which is quite complex and rather vague. For example, it was not clear how many MPs would be in the Parliament, apart from the minimum number of 101. According to the new electoral system, the MPs were elected from the unified national party lists, as well as the lists of candidates, which the parties presented in all electoral districts (13 in total). The main feature of these elections was that the candidates were running not only against the members of their competing parties, but against the members of their own parties presented in the same electoral district as well.

 

Pre-Election Environment

There were numerous examples of confrontations based on political reasons during the pre-election period, as a result of which, mostly the people connected with the opposition parties got physical injuries. There were accusations about buying the votes in the pre-election period as well and the governing party was accused of pressuring the school directors in order for them to hold election campaigns in favor of the government.

 

Election Day

There were 2009 polling stations open in 13 electoral districts, enabling about 2.6 million people to vote. According to the latest data, the voter turnout reached about 60.1%. Numerous international organizations, including the OSCE and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Commonwealth of Independent States, were observing the election process. According to the preliminary assessments from the international organizations, overall, the election process was held in a calm and organized environment; however, there were some cases of interfering with the election process, bribing the voters and pressuring the media, mainly from the governing party.

 

Distribution of Votes/Mandates

According to the opinion polls conducted before the elections by the Gallup International Association and Russian Public Opinion Research Center, several political parties had chances of getting enough votes to overcome the barrier. Both opinion polls predicted the Tsarukyan Electoral Block to get the most votes with the governing party being a very close runner-up.

The pre-election forecasts in terms of making through the election barrier turned out to be accurate and only four out of nine political entities managed to get enough votes. Barrier for the political parties was 5% whilst for the electoral blocks it was up to 7%. 

The following political entities managed to overcome the election barrier:

  • The Republican Party of Armenia received 49.15% of the votes and obtained 58 mandates in the Parliament, with the Assyrian, Yezidi and Kurdish minority representatives getting single mandate each.
  • Tsarukyan alliance received 27.35% of the votes (31 mandates, including one for the Russian minority representative).
  • Yelk ("Way Out") alliance – 7.78% (nine mandates).
  • Armenian Revolutionary Federation – Dashnaktsutyun (ARF) – 6.58% (seven mandates).

The new Parliament will have 105 MPs, including four mandates reserved for the representatives of the ethnic minorities.

The following parties failed to make it through the election barrier:

  • Armenian Renaissance – 3.72%
  • Ohanyan-Raffi-Oskanian (ORO) alliance – 2.07%
  • Alliance of the Armenian National Congress and the People's Party of Armenia – 1.66%
  • Free Democrats – 0.94%
  • Armenian Communist Party – 0.75%

The Winners

The Republican Party of Armenia

The success of the governing party was facilitated by the positive image of the party members. We can talk about two politicians more specifically. One is the former Gazprom official, Prime Minister of Armenia (since September 2016) Karen Karapetyan and the second one is the number one on the party electoral list, Minister of Defense of Armenia, Vigen Sargsyan. According to the pre-election polls, Mr. Karapetyan was one of the most popular politicians, whose name is closely linked with reforms. In addition, the success of the party was further facilitated by the state administrative resources, which were, traditionally, actively used by the governing party.

Tsarukyan alliance

The success of the Tsarukyan alliance was facilitated by the businessman and philanthropist image of the leader of one of the major parties of the alliance (Prosperous Armenia) Gagik Tsarukyan. Mr. Tsarukyan, who is also known as Dodi Gago (Silly Gago), is the richest man in Armenia. He has the experience of both cooperating with the government as well as opposing it. In 2015 Tsarukyan, following the pressure from the government, left active political life; however, he often used to appear side-by-side with Serzh Sargsyan on different events. Tsarukyan alliance may appear in the new Parliament as an opposition party or participate in the formation of the Cabinet at a certain stage. However, in the given situation, the governing party can form the Cabinet without Tsarukyan’s support as well.

Yelk ("Way Out") alliance

The Yelk alliance will be an opposition political block in the new Parliament. The alliance consists mainly of the MPs coming from three political parties (Bright Armenia, Republic and Civil Contract). The success of the alliance was due to the charisma of its leaders. They have been in politics for a long time and their names are not discredited. The Leader of the Civil Contract is a former journalist, Nikol Pashinyan, Edmon Marukyan leads the Bright Armenia whilst the Republic is led by Aram Sargsyan, who served as the Prime Minister of Armenia in the period from 1999 to 2000. The alliance is quite popular among the youth who are dissatisfied with the policies of the incumbent government. The Yelk alliance is the only political entity, which opposes Armenia’s membership in the Eurasian Economic Union and supports approximation with the European Union.

Armenian Revolutionary Federation – Dashnaktsutyun

Dashnaktsutyun has its loyal voters, which enables this party with a very long history to always overcome the election barrier. During various periods of time the party has been in the opposition, as well as the member of the governing coalition. However, even during its office in the government the party criticized Sargsyan’s government for certain issues, especially for the attempts of approximation with Turkey. Since 2016, the party was represented in Karen Karapetyan’s government by three Ministers. Given this, it is highly likely that Dashnaktsutyun will become the member of the new coalition government as well. After the elections, the speaker of the governing party and the Vice-Speaker of the Parliament, Eduard Sharmazanov, stated that the Republican Party is ready to cooperate with the Dashnaktsutyun.

 

The Losers

Five political entities failed to overcome the election barrier. As a result, many famous political figures were left outside the Parliament, including the former Chairman of the National Security Council, Artur Baghdasaryan whose Armenian Renaissance party came fifth. The first President of Armenia, Levon Ter-Petrosyan and his political block were also left outside the Parliament.

Ohanyan-Raffi-Oskanian (ORO) alliance failed considerably. The leaders of the political block are the former Minister of Defense of Armenia Seyran Ohanyan and the former Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Armenia, Vardan Oskanyan and Rafi Ovanesyan. The government waged a serious battle against them in the pre-election period. Not long before the election, the supporter of the alliance and the former Head of the Nagorno Karabakh Defense Forces, Samvel Babayan, was arrested. Mr. Babayan was charged with bringing anti-aircraft missile system Igla from Georgia to Armenia.

 

Who Will form the Cabinet

According to the election results, the Republican Party has received the so-called stable majority, enabling the party to form the Cabinet independently. The distribution of the votes excludes the necessity of forming a coalition government; however, given the past experiences, the governing party might resume its cooperation with the current coalition partner – Dashnaktsutyun. On 11 April 2017, Dashnaktsutyun also confirmed the on-going talks with the governing party about forming a new coalition government. The current Prime Minister, Karen Karapetyan, will most probably retain his office. During the pre-election period, the governing party promised to keep him as the Prime Minister in case of its victory in the elections. Mr. Karapetyan will most probably keep his position until April 2018 minimum, when Serzh Sargsyan’s presidential tenure is set to expire.

 

What Will Change as a Result of the Elections

Important changes will take place in the political life of the country after the Parliamentary Elections; however, these will only become noticeable from April 2018. Resulting from the constitutional changes after the 6 December 2015 referendum, the power of the President will be diminished after April 2018 and the country will move to the parliamentary model of governance.

One of the main reasons for moving to the parliamentary model is believed to be the expiration of the second, and the last, tenure of President Serzh Sargsyan. Mr. Sargsyan, who is the most powerful politician in the country, does not appear to be planning to retire and is creating appropriate legitimation for retaining power. Given the fact that Sargsyan cannot be elected for a third term of presidency, and has refused to support changes to make this possible, transferring to the parliamentary model is the most legitimate way for him to stay in power.

Mr. Sargsyan has a full year to plan his future political career. If he decides to stay in politics, he can occupy the position of the Prime Minister after his tenure as the President expires, supporting the election of someone close to him as the President. There is also a second option – he can retain the powerful position of the Chairman of the party and continue influencing the political processes in this way.

 

What Will Change for Russia

There are no parties in the Armenian political spectrum, which are decidedly anti-Russian. Given the security risks facing Armenia, the political elite of the country admits the need of developing strategic cooperation with the Russian Federation. In this sense, the positions of the government and opposition parties are quite similar. The only party, which opposes Armenia’s membership in the Eurasian Economic Union and supports approximation with the European Union, is Yelk ("Way Out") alliance, which does not have enough mandates in the Parliament to influence the foreign policy vector of the country. 

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