Armenian Prime Minister Pashinian Wins New Political Mandate Despite Recent Military Defeat

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 18 Issue: 105

Re-elected Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian (Source: Reuters)

Snap parliamentary elections, held on June 20, resulted in a decisive victory for incumbent Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s Civil Contract party: with 53.91 percent of votes in favor, it will receive 71 out of the 107 seats in the National Assembly, fulfilling Pashinian’s declared goal of obtaining a two-thirds majority yet again. The two other factions in the future parliament, with 29 and 7 seats, respectively, will be the “Armenia” and “I Have Honor” coalition blocs (, June 27). The former of the two opposition blocs is led by former president Robert Kocharian (in office 1998–2008) and includes the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashaktsutyun) party; while the latter is led by Arthur Vanetsian, the previous head of the National Security Service. Vanetsian had been appointed to the security service’s top job upon Pashinian’s suggestion, in May 2018; but following his dismissal from the post in September 2019, he adopted a critical stance toward Pashinian’s cabinet. Vanetsian’s political alliance includes a number of high-ranking members of the Republican Party of Armenia: notably former president Serge Sarkisian (in office 2008–2018). In early 2018, Sarkisian had attempted to occupy the prime minister’s post after the end of his second presidential term; instead, he was ousted by the Pashinian-led civil disobedience campaign that came to be known as the Armenian Velvet Revolution (see EDM, April 23, 2018). Today, he could be considered I Have Honor’s non-official leader.

International observers gave a largely positive assessment of the elections, and the US Department of State urged the opposition to accept the results (, June 24). The two anti-Pashinian blocs, however, plan to contest the official results before the Constitutional Court. Kocharian, despite numerous pre-election statements to the contrary (apparently based on expectations of a tight contest), has abandoned the idea of taking to the streets in order to overturn the results; yet during a post-election press conference, he affirmed his intentions to return to power by whatever means exist (, June 22). It also remains unclear whether or not the opposition will attempt to boycott the parliament’s work.

The campaigns of both opposition blocs as well as of Pashinian’s faction de facto started immediately after the Russia-brokered ceasefire concluded the Second Karabakh War in November 2020. This was months before new elections were formally announced. But divisive and hostile post-war rhetoric immediately became part of the election campaign. Pashinian’s adversaries called him a “traitor” and “capitulant,” claimed that he accepted a bribe from Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, and accused him of worsening Armenia’s relations with Russia, which allegedly resulted in Moscow’s reserved stance during the war in Karabakh. In turn, Pashinian asserted that the war had been inevitable. The embattled prime minister focused on his domestic opponents’ past sins, including a deficient development of the Armenian Armed Forces due to corruption and embezzlement under their rule. Furthermore, he promised to “keep the revolution going” by means of a “mandate of steel” (which would be given by voters) in place of the “velvet mandate,” that is, to implement judiciary and other reforms postponed for a long time. Both sides used profanities plentifully throughout the campaign. Unless there is a boycott of the new legislature or the Constitutional Court rules to invalidate the results, the opposition is almost certain to bring the post-war rhetoric to the parliament as well.

The Armenia and I Have Honor coalitions have both proposed further integration with Russia, including the possibility of joining the Russia-Belarus Union State. Russian flags were waived at the Armenia bloc’s final political rally on June 18, just before the pre-election “day of silence” (, June 18). In turn, the faction’s leader, Vanetsian, said in an interview with Russian television host Vladimir Solovyov that Crimea belongs to Russia (, June 9)—the kind of statement that mainstream Armenian politicians, including Serge Sarkisian, used to avoid. Kocharian and Vanetsian also promised they would obtain a better settlement of the Karabakh issue and would expel non-governmental organizations (NGO) receiving Western funding from Armenia, or they would set limitations on such NGOs similar to the types of legal restrictions that exist in Russia (,, June 13). Similar rhetoric was used by the Prosperous Armenia party, which used to have the second largest fraction in the previous parliament but this time remained below the threshold for entry, with 3.95 percent of the ballots cast (the fourth-largest result).

Ultimately, Pashinian’s rhetoric, reinforced by the former presidents Kocharian’s and Sarkisian’s bad reputation and negative memories of their rule, turned out to be more convincing to Armenian voters. Despite the propaganda claims about Pashinian’s intention to change Armenia’s foreign policy direction, his practical steps do not suggest such a change is in the offing. On May 27, Pashinian’s cabinet allocated several land plots in the country’s southernmost region of Syunik in order to establish border service posts under the supervision of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB); and already after the elections, Yerevan dispatched a delegation to Moscow in order to discuss a planned expansion of the Russian military base on Armenian soil (, June 28). New Russian troops will likely be stationed in the Gegharkunik region, bordering Kelbajar, which was returned to Azerbaijan’s control as a result of the war. The Pashinian government has also made other post-war concessions to Moscow. Most importantly, an inter-governmental agreement circumventing the law on audiovisual media, adopted earlier in 2020 (, July 29, 2020), allows state-controlled Russian TV companies to keep their slots on the Armenian airwaves.

Regarding regional transit issues, Pashinian kept repeating for several months before the elections—at parliamentary hearings, cabinet meetings, and rallies across the country—that the opening of all communication routes in the South Caucasus would ultimately benefit Armenia (, March 28). Keeping in mind his limited resources and negotiating capacity, he is likely to “outsource” negotiations on that issue, along with the protection of the border, to the Russian side. That would also allow Pashinian to focus on domestic policy, particularly keeping in mind the critical need to consolidate the state bureaucracy, a pressing issue that was hampered by his government’s inconsistent reform policies during the pre-war period (, April 19). Indeed, disappointments on that front arguably enabled the political return of vengeful former top politicians from the previous ruling regime with extensive connections to Armenia’s “deep state.”