Alliances are being formed between Armenian political parties ahead of the 20 June parliamentary elections. Whilst they all claim to want to oust current prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan, they are all also busy competing against each other. Despite this, the next Armenian government is likely to be a coalition government, argues Benyamin Poghosyan in this op-ed for commonspace.eu
As Armenia approaches the snap parliamentary elections scheduled for 20 June 2021, the political parties are making final arrangements to form alliances and clarify their positions. The incumbent Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan will participate in the elections with his “Civic Contract” party. The second and the third Presidents of Armenia – Robert Kocharyan and Serzh Sargsyan have also clarified their positions. Robert Kocharyan will participate in the elections in an alliance with two parties – the “Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF)”, also known as “Dashnaktsutyun”, and the recently established "Reviving Armenia," which unites almost all Mayors of the Syunik region and is led by the former governor of Syunik. Kocharyan has always enjoyed close relations with ARF. He freed their jailed members immediately after his election as President of Armenia in 1998, and ARF was part of the government during his two presidential terms. The key goal of the "Reviving Armenia" party is to prevent the economic and later possible political influence of Azerbaijan and Turkey in the Syunik region if communication routes are opened to connect Azerbaijan with the Nakhijevan Autonomous Republic via the Syunik.
The former ruling Republican Party led by Serzh Sargsyan has formed an alliance with the "Motherland" party of former Director of the National Security Service, Artur Vanetsyan. Pashinyan appointed Vanetsyan as NSS director immediately after the 'Velvet revolution" in May 2018. Vanetsyan quickly got the image of the relentless fighter against the old corrupted elites and was quite popular. He played a key role in launching a criminal investigation against Robert Kocharyan in July 2018. However, Vanetsyan resigned in September 2019 and, shortly after that, established the "Motherland" party, which portrayed itself as one of the main opposition forces against Pashinyan. Serzh Sargsyan himself will not participate in the Parliamentary elections, and most probably, Vanetsyan will lead the Alliance list.
The first President of Armenia, Levon Ter-Petrosyan, may participate in the elections too. Ter-Petrosyan resigned in February 1998 under pressure by the then Prime Minister, Kocharyan, Defence Minister, Vazgen Sargsyan (who later was elected as prime minister and was killed in the Armenian Parliament in October 1999), and Interior and National Security Minister, Serzh Sargsyan. Ter-Petrosyan supported the "the Phase approach" solution of the Karabakh conflict offered by the OSCE Minsk Group Co-chairs in Autumn 1997, which envisaged the withdrawal of Armenian forces from six regions around the former Nagorno Karabakh Autonomous Region except for Berdzor (Lachin) and continuation of open-end negotiations to fix the final status of Nagorno Karabakh. The political elite of Armenia and Karabakh rejected this offer and forced Ter-Petrosyan to resign.
Ter-Petrosyan made a political comeback in late 2007 and challenged Serzh Sargsyan during the February 2008 presidential elections, which ended with clashes with police and the deaths of 10 persons on March 1, 2008. During these events, Nikol Pashinyan was one of the key supporters of Ter-Petrosyan and then was jailed and afterwards pardoned by President Serzh Sargsyan. Ter-Petrosyan played a significant role in shaping Pashinyan's political career and making him the leading opposition figure in Armenia. Ter-Petrosyan brought Pashinyan to the Armenian Parliament in May 2012 through his "Armenian National Congress" list. However, after the 2020 Karabakh war, Ter-Petrosyan heavily criticised Pashinyan and called him one of the biggest disasters that ever happened to Armenia during the long history of the Armenian people.
Ter-Petrosyan even offered Robert Kocharyan and Serzh Sargsyan to form an alliance and jointly participate in the June 2021 snap elections to raise the chances of Pashinyan's defeat. Kocharyan rejected this offer, and Sargsyan stated that alliance could be helpful only if all three former Presidents agreed to participate. On May 1, Ter-Petrosyan offered Serzh Sargsyan to create an alliance between the two of them, but Sargsyan reiterated his position rejecting the offer. Ter-Petrosyan will probably participate in the elections with the “Armenian National Congress” party, and they have some chances to enter the Parliament.
Other parties that can enter the Parliament in the upcoming elections are the "Prosperous Armenia" party, led by one of the richest men in Armenia, Gagik Tsarukyan, and the "Bright Armenia" party led by Edmon Marukyan. Robert Kocharyan played a critical role in making Tsraukyan one of the wealthiest persons in Armenia during his presidency in 1998-2008, and he convinced Tsarukyan to enter the politics in 2006 and lead the "Prosperous Armenia" party. The rationale behind Kocharyan's decision was his desire to indirectly continue his presence in the Armenian political life after leaving the Presidency in 2008. However, Tsarukyan and Kocharyan relations were spoiled after Kocharyan's arrest in July 2018. Tsarukyan did not condemn his arrest, stating that after the 'Velvet revolution," Armenia had independent law enforcement agencies and independent judiciary, and if the court decided that Kocharyan was guilty, he should be put into prison. Most probably, Kocharyan perceived these statements as a betrayal.
Meanwhile, Tsraukyan had problems with Nikol Pashinyan too. Law enforcement bodies opened a criminal investigation against Tsarukyan in summer 2020, accusing him of bribing voters during the April 2017 parliamentary elections. The court jailed Tsarukyan in September 2020, just before the Karabakh war, and freed him on 200000 USD bail during the war.
"Bright Armenia" party positions itself as a liberal pro-European party. The US-educated Edmon Marukyan established the party in December 2015, and he joined Pashinyan to establish "The exit" alliance, which entered Parliament in April 2017. "Bright Armenia” participated in the December 2018 snap parliamentary elections and received 6.4 percent of votes entering the Parliament and forming the smallest faction after the “My step” and “Prosperous Armenia”.
Given the growing polarisation of the Armenian society ahead of the Parliamentary elections, no party or alliance will receive 50% + 1 vote to form a single-party government. Nikol Pashinyan's "Civic Contract" may receive up to 35 percent of votes, while the alliance led by Kocharyan may receive up to 20 percent. Tsarukyan's "Prosperous Armenia" and alliance between the Republican party and the Motherland party have serious chances to enter the Parliament. At the same time, "Bright Armenia" and the "Armenian National Congress" need to make significant efforts to secure their place in the next Parliament. Therefore the next government of Armenia will be a coalition government, and here Nikol Pashinyan may face problems. The Alliances led by Robert Kocharyan and Serzh Sargsyan, “Bright Armenia" and "Armenian National Congress" parties will not form a coalition with Pashinyan's “Civic Contract" party. The only potential coalition partner of Pashinyan could be “Prosperous Armenia" led by Tsarukyan. At the same time, at least theoretically, Kocharyan, Sargsyan, and Ter-Petrosyan may establish a coalition government. The “Bright Armenia" party rejects the possibility of establishing coalition government either with Kocharyan or Pashinyan.
Given that Ter-Petrosyan has fewer chances to enter the Parliament, the wild card of the upcoming elections is “Prosperous Armenia". Gagik Tsarukyan may choose to form a coalition either with Pashinyan or with Kocharyan and Serzh Sargsyan. His decision will probably depend on guarantees that other players will be ready to offer him to protect his security and business empire.