Author: Giorgi Turmanidze
Parliamentary elections in Armenia will be held on April 2 2017. Those will be the first elections after the constitutional reform, pursuant to which as of 2018 the country moves from the Presidential to the Parliamentary model. The key post-elections issue is the decision of an acting President, Serzh Sargsyan, on his political future after the expiration of his Presidential term.
Envisaged constitutional changes
As a result of December 6, 2016 Referendum, 63% of voters supported the Constitutional Reform, following which the subsequent changes were introduced to the Constitution and the legislation of the country:
- After the 2018 Presidential elections (second term of President Serzh Sargsyan expires in March 2018) powers of the President will be reduced and the President will discharge a symbolic role. The new President will be elected by the Parliament.
- Number of seats in the Parliament (National Assembly) will reduce from 131 to 101. Only parties or election blocks will have a right to participate in the elections.
- Political party collecting 54% of votes shall be able to nominate a Prime Minister and form the government. In case no party obtains majority, maximum three election subjects shall be able to form a coalition government.
- Election subjects crossing the election threshold (5% for parties and 7% for election blocks) shall form the opposition and if necessary, will receive minimum 33% of guaranteed seats
Nine (9) political subjects participate in the elections campaign which officially resumed on March 5:
Republican Party of Armenia:
The Republican Party of Armenia is a ruling political power of the country; it is chaired by the President Serzh Sargsyan. He discharges the President’s functions as of 2008. Two very important events of 2016 seriously affected the reputation of the government and Sargsyan. First, the Four-day War (April 2-5 2016) crushed the myth of invincibility of Armenia; it was when Azerbaijan managed to return a small part of territories occupied by Armenia. Second, the fortnight occupation of the Police premises in July 2016 was perceived as weakness of the government. An armed group “Sasna Tsreri” was demanding resignation of the President and release of their detained comrades. Thousands of people were gathering in front of the Police premises in support of the rebels.
In order to resolve the situation, in September 2016, Karen Karapetyan, who is known for close ties with Moscow, was appointed as a Prime Minister of Armenia. Karapetyan served as Mayor of Yerevan in 2010-2011 and as a high ranking official in the Russian company “Gazprom” in the last six years.
“Election Block of Tsarukyan”
The engine and a leading party of the “Tsarukyan’s Election Block” is a founder of “Prospering Armenia” businessman and arm-wrestling champion Gagiq Tsarukyan. Tsarukyan, aka “Dodi Gago” (Silly Gago) is considered as the richest man in Armenia. Tsarukyan’s Party, deemed as a supporter of the former President of Armenia Robert Kocharyan, was cooperating with the government until 2012. However, after Parliamentary Elections of 2012, it declared itself a moderate political opposition and started criticizing the government. By 2015 Tsarukyan leaves active politics, but lately he was often seen next to Sargsyan in various political functions.
According to the surveys conducted in the pre-election period, the Party has a chance of being in a leading, fist position. Election results will determine the position of the party; i.e. will it be the member of the coalition government or remain in the opposition.
“Dashnaktsutyun” Revolutionary Federation of Armenia
At different times, “Dashnaktsutyun” was an opposition force, as well as the member of the coalition government. However, when in government, the Party criticized the Sargsyan’s government on various matters, including the once concerning approximation/rehabilitation of relationships with Turkey.
As of September 2016, the Party is represented in the Government with three Ministers. A step like that indicates that the Republican Party considers the “Dashnaktsutyun” as an ally in the future Parliament. If the Republican Party fails to obtain the majority, then 5% of Dashnaktsutyun will play a crucial role for formation of the Coalition.
Election Block “Exit”
The Election block mainly comprises members of three parties (“Shining Armenia”, Civil Consent, Republic). The election block tries to present itself as a third power and a pro-Western amalgamation. According to the experts, the Party has a chance to beat the election threshold.
Election Block “Ohanyan –Raffi –Oskanyan”
The election block unites persons, who are former officials of Sargsyan’s government, including ex-Minister of Defense Seyran Ohanyan, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Vardan Oskanyan and Raffi Hovanesyan. Leaders of the election block are experienced politicians. Hovanesyan was a significant competitor to Sargsyan in 2013 Presidential elections. He received 37% of the votes. Ohanyan has a certain support among war veterans and acting military officials.
Other political groups
Remaining election subjects have less chance of success in the elections: Renaissance Party of Armenia, National Congress of Armenia (leader of the Party the 1st President of Armenia Levon Ter-Petrosyan) and a block of the People’s Party of Armenia, as well as Free Democrats and Communist Party of Armenia.
Who will cross the election threshold?
According to pre-elections polls, the “Tsarukyan’s alliance” and Republican Party have best chances of winning. Representative of “Gallup International” in Armenia published results of the survey conducted on February 23 – March 2 2017 according to which Tsarukyans’s Alliance will receive 26.4% and the Republican Party – 22.8%. “Exit” election block and “Dashnaktsutyun” have a chance of crossing the threshold with 4.3% and 3.9% correspondingly.
The Russian Public Opinion Survey Centre’s surveys results (February 22-26) show that Tsarukyan’s Alliance leads with 26%, followed by Republican Party with 18%. The Election Block “Exit”, “Dashnaktsutuyn” and Renaissance Party of Armenia have chances of crossing the election threshold. According to the survey, the Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan has a large support of population with 77% and so does Gagiq Tsarukyan with 87%.
Post-elections Plans of Sargsyan
Despite the unfavourable socio-economic conditions in Armenia as well as numerous failures in 2016, the Prime Minister Karapetyan enjoys high rating; thus, with administrative resources on hand, the ruling Republican Party, most probably, will succeed and form the coalition government together with ally political parties. If the Republican Party takes the first place, due to former experience, the allies of the government may be first of all Dashnaktsutyun and if necessary, Tsarukyan’s Election Block, which will ensure power for Serzh Sargsyan and his allies even after the Presidential elections of 2018.
If the Republican party retains power, then we can forecast several ways of Sargsyan’s political career: first: after 2018 Sargsyan will hold the position of the Prime Minister and he will support one of his allies for a symbolic position of the President; second: according to Sargsyan, he does not intend to step down from the position of Party Leader. In conditions where the Party leader’s position is more prestigious versus other high positions, supposedly, Sargsyan will be able to influence political processes from that position, too.
Whom does Russia Support?
Russia may have its favourite, but Kremlin does not openly support either political power, which would cause concerns in a part of Armenian society. Russia believes that due to current geo-political reality, Armenian political elite will have a difficulty in implementing the anti-Russian policy. No political subjects have clearly anti-Russian rhetoric. It shall be noted that several weeks before the elections, on March 15, Serzh Sargsyan visited Moscow where he had a personal meeting with the Russian President, Vladimir Putin. Most probably, Sargsyan has Russia’s support for his future political activities. However, the current Prime Minister Karapetyan has very close ties with Russia as well. According to the statement of the Republican Party, he will retain the post of Prime Minister after elections. If political events develop unfavourably for Sargsyan, Karapetyan will serve as some sort of “a reserve option” for Russia.
Shifting to the Parliamentary model of governance when second (and the last) Presidential term of Sargsyan expires in 2018, leads to rather grounded suspicion that Constitutional changes aim at legitimate retention of Sargsyan in power. In case of abovementioned changes and a victory of the ruling Republican Party and its allies in Parliamentary elections, Sargsyan may remain the most influential politician of the country after 2018 as well and we may see him become a Prime Minister of the country.