The power struggle in Armenia (see Part One in EDM, February 25) has turned into a standoff confined to Yerevan’s central square. It does not seem to be reverberating beyond downtown Yerevan, let alone in the provinces.
The opposition’s moves to oust the government lack the features of a coup d’état (a possibility that the United States’ Department of State said it took under consideration following Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s allegations—Armenpress, February 25). While the military leadership firmly demands the government’s resignation (see EDM, January 25), the Army has not come out from its barracks. The top brass does not present any kind of alternative vision for the country, shows no ambitions to take over power, and does not endorse any political group to take over.
The opposition’s civilian side pins its hopes on the military to pressure Pashinian into resigning because opposition parties are still failing to mobilize mass support after three months of anemic, scattered protests. The latest public opinion research suggests that the existing opposition parties, whether old and familiar or new and untested, lack a serious electoral base (see below).
Pashinian’s erstwhile mass support is also hardly to be seen in the current power struggle. His efforts notwithstanding, only a few thousand attended Pashinian‘s two events—a march and a rally—in downtown Yerevan on February 25; whereupon he had to announce a stop to mass events. “No more velveting,” he proclaimed (News.am, February 25), alluding to his 2018 “velvet revolution” upheaval. His government’s performance dashed the irrational hopes he had stirred up, but he might still cling to power through the parliamentary majority he commands until 2022.
Overall, this is a power struggle between two worn-out camps with declining popular support. The former governing parties and Pashinian‘s government equally failed to deliver coherent strategies for developing the country. Pashinian and his team then marched into the 44-day Second Karabakh War against Azerbaijan (see EDM, November 25, 2020), pulling its military along to disaster. The Army had enjoyed hallowed status in Armenia under the previous regime (1998–2018), but little appears to remain of that status now.
Both political camps are now seeking support from state institutions amid the standoff. The Armed Forces have spoken up (see above), while the Police and the State Security Service are rumored to tilt toward Paahinian’s government. These two institutions have, each, issued a few curt and sibylline public statements. Separately, a group of 30 senior police officers (five generals and 25 colonels) have signed a statement supporting the military’s demand for the government to resign (Arminfo, February 25, 26).
The old establishment’s cultural and academic institutions have supported the opposition all along and continue doing so. They feel politically marginalized by Pashinian’s anti-elitist demagoguery; and they were culturally compatible with the national-conservative brand of the old regime, some of whose representatives are now among the opposition’s leaders.
On February 26, President Armen Sarkissian took steps to mediate between the two camps. He has deflected Pashinian’s demand to co-sign for the dismissal of the Armed Forces’ chief of staff, General Onik Gasparian. Instead, Sarkissian visited Gasparian in the latter’s office at the Ministry of Defense, in effect complying with Gasparian’s condition that anyone wishing to meet with him should come to the defense ministry. The head of state has also received a delegation of the opposition’s Fatherland Salvation Movement at Sarkissian’s presidential office. The president intends to meet with Pashinian as well (Arminfo, News.am, February 26).
The 17-party Salvation Front has designated the former prime minister and defense minister, Vazgen Manukian, as its candidate for prime minister of a transitional government to replace Pashinian’s cabinet and organize pre-term parliamentary elections. Pashinian and his parliamentary majority would negotiate about holding pre-term elections or awaiting the quadrennial deadline in the autumn of 2022. Irrespective of the elections’ timing, the government insists on organizing the elections itself while the opposition wants them organized by a transitional government. The opposition parties have agreed among themselves that the transitional prime minister—putatively Manukian or anyone else—would refrain from running in the next parliamentary elections (Armenpress, February 26).
Gallup’s opinion poll, released on February 19, is the first credible poll to have been conducted in the aftermath of the Second Karabakh War. Conducted by telephone on February 15–17, through Gallup’s Armenian affiliate Mareketing Professional Group, the poll has measured the rating of parties and politicians on a scale of 1 to 5 points. Overall, it shows that the ratings are low-to-medium, without high ratings. According to these results, Pashinian’s rating is 2.8 points, President Sarkissian has 2.3 points, opposition tycoon’s Gagik Tsarukian achieves 2.2 points, and Manukian receives 1.6 points. The former heads of state, Robert Kocharian, Levon Ter-Petrosian and Serge Sarkissian, are shown at 2 points, 1.7 points and 1.7 points, respectively.
On the issue of which government should organize the parliamentary elections, 39 percent favor Pashinian’s government, while 44 percent favor a transitional government for that task. If parliamentary elections were held “next Sunday,” 33 percent would vote for the Pashinian-led My Step bloc, while two thirds of the vote would split between other parties. The old regime (Kocharian-Sarkisian) and Pashinian’s government are blamed almost equally—32 percent and 29 percent, respectively—for Armenia’s defeat in the recent war (Arminfo, February 19).