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New ‘tactical manoeuvrer’ in Armenia: elections of new prime minister in summer

Author:

01.04.2021

With the introduction of TV commercials back in the 1990s, the most successful advertising phrases became popular. One of them came from a research and production association Alternativa: "Despite the abundance of options, there is no other alternative!" No one remembers any more the field of operation of that association. Moreover, in those years the same commercial company could sell chicken legs today, computers tomorrow, leggings the day after tomorrow and financial derivatives a week later. This forced marketing specialists to look for unconventional moves to promote the brand, not the product itself.

It is difficult to say whether Armenians remember this advertisement today. But the phrase itself describes the existing situation in Armenia pretty well.

 

Pashinyan's tactical retreat

There is a new turn in the internal political life of Armenia. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan set the date of early elections for June 20 after having discussions with the leadership of the opposition party Prosperous Armenia. Theoretically, the Armenian opposition should have celebrated the victory. But…

The term ‘tactical retreat’ expressed by the former press secretary of the Armenian Defense Ministry Artsrun Hovhannisyan almost immediately became one of the catchy memes of the past 44-day war. But if Artsrun Hovhannisyan used the phrase in an attempt to deny the fact of defeat of the Armenian army, the early elections announced by Pashinyan are a slightly different case with much more tactical manoeuvrer than the seemingly expected political surrender.

Pashinyan actually agreed to the elections and let the people decide who they want to see as the new prime minister. This was followed by a series of theatrical and emotional statements. He said that he remains the acting prime minister until the vote, the election of the next parliament and the formation of a new government. But the Armenian opposition categorically rejected this option. In particular, Vazgen Manukyan, the candidate for prime minister of Armenia from the united opposition pompously called the Movement to Save the Motherland. Manukyan said it is impossible to hold elections until Pashinyan leaves the post to someone not from his team . “If Nikol Pashinyan resigns but the power remains in the hands of his team, then we cannot hold elections at all. Especially, if Pashinyan [still holds the elections],” news.am quoted Manukyan.

 

Leaderless race

Armenian opposition has a good reason to be skeptical about the upcoming elections. It has never had a bright charismatic leader capable, as Pashinyan himself did in the spring of 2018, to lead especially those who are disrespectfully called "pogos" in Armenia, that’s the representatives of the urban and rural lower classes. Refined opponents of Nikol Pashinyan use stingy rhetoric in his address calling him a redneck. They can sarcastically call the electorate of the incumbent prime minister “those that hang their underwear on the Mashtots Avenue” or “bathe in the Sevan Lake in a bathrobe” and so on. But it is this people that can well ensure both victory and defeat in the elections. Secondly, such verbal escapades let off steam, but they certainly did not add supporters to the opposition camp. Finally, without a leader who can lead this people dressed in T-shirts and bathrobes, one cannot expect much from the elections.

There are many Armenian politicians happy to give interviews and make statements on behalf of the people. But it is a big question which of them has solid electoral support. "A man from the past"– Vazgen Manukyan–is a compromise who can help the opposition to soften the internal contradictions. Opposition intends to postpone, at least for a year (the term Manukyan sees himself as a prime minister), the adoption of the final yet difficult decision on the opposition leader to head the government. Leaders of the Garabagh clan cannot expect the popular love. Moreover, ordinary Armenians remember the realities under the criminal junta pretty well. Certainly, one can argue that we can still see an unexpected candidate before the June election in Armenia. Yet this person has little time to express himself in full.

Theoretically, Pashinyan can take a breath now. Moreover, he felt so confident that he headed the list of candidates for his party Civil Contract. But only theoretically, since there is an incident with taking down the Chief of the General Staff of the Armenian Armed Forces–Onik Gasparyan.

 

The General Staff games

In fact, the intrigue has taken too long to the finish line. Onik Gasparyan had already tried to resign after the lost war, but then changed his mind and urged Pashinyan to resign. In turn, Pashinyan decided to fire Gasparyan and did it, in fact. But then the dismissed Chief of the General Staff was supported by the Administrative Court. Meanwhile, Nikol Pashinyan appointed a new head of the General Staff–Artak Davtyan, who has been in this post previously but had to step down after holding a wedding party for his son in spite of the lockdown measures. The new chief immediately assured that the army would remain neutral in internal political battles.

But it's hard to believe in this. Moreover, now the Armenian army has two chiefs of the General Staff. Which one of them will be supported by officers and units when it gets hot in the country is an open question. Especially if we remember that the army in Armenia has been drawn into politics since 1998, when the first president of Armenia, Levon Ter-Petrosyan, was pushed aside by the army led by some of the generals. In 2008, Serzh Sargsyan tried to purge the army from the supporters of Ter-Petrosyan. After ten years, Nikol Pashinyan did the same trying to get rid of the representatives of the infamous Garabagh clan, but to no avail.

Meanwhile, politicians are inclined to think of the forced scenario. Armenian political elite believes that if Pashinyan can hold the real power in his hands until the elections, rest assured the elections will be rigged in favour of his supporters. Indeed, numerous human rights NGOs expecting funding from the Armenian lobby can praise the stunning level of democracy in Armenia. But in reality, the elections in the country only confirm the status of those forces that are already in power.

This was the case in 1988, when the first president of Armenia Levon Ter-Petrosyan was removed as a result of a ‘creeping coup’. The elections confirmed the victory of Robert Kocharian, who was the acting president at that time. In 2017, Serzh Sargsyan already held "controlled parliamentary elections", where the Republican Party rigged the elections. Parliamentary elections on December 9, 2018 consolidated the victory of Nikol Pashinyan, who has already been in power as a result of the coup. All this draws up an understandable strategy for the opposition: first to take power, and only then to hold elections.

This changes the balance of power to a large extent in favour of the Garabakh clan, for which Vazgen Manukyan and his noisy flock may well serve as a spoiler. By the way, Robert Kocharian has come to power twice by means of conspiracy and political assassinations. That’s how he headed the occupation regime in Garabagh first time and became the President of Armenia the second time. Now he can well repeat the previous experience, given the still strong positions of the Garabakh people in the army and power structures.

Under these conditions, the Garabagh clan will have to follow its promises of revenge trying to aggravate the situation. This can lead to a new military catastrophe for Armenia, which risks to face both a civil war and a second blow from the Iron Fist.



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