The charges against former president Robert Kocharyan and his detention (see EDM, August 8) predictably boosted political tensions and further ramped up the already intensive propaganda campaign against the incumbent Armenian government led by Nikol Pashinyan. Furthermore, the court of appeals presided over by one of Kocharyan’s former associates sustained his lawyers’ motion to release him from detention on the grounds of immunity for actions performed while in office (Azatutyun.am, August 13). The court of cassation now has to review the case within three months. Kocharyan has stated his ambition to lead the old regime’s opposition to Pashinyan’s cabinet. As a result, the political party Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF, or Dashnaktsutyun) announced that future cooperation with Kocharyan would be likely. ARF was one of the pillars of Kocharyan’s and Serzh Sargsyan’s regimes in 1998–2008 and 2008–2018, respectively, and it joined Pashinyan’s minority government in May 2018, (Azatutyun.am, August 15).
On September 11, a phone conversation between the heads of the Special Investigative Service and the National Security Service was uploaded to YouTube. The two law enforcement officials, speaking in mid-August, were recorded discussing details of apprehending former president Kocharyan as well as Colonel General Yuri Khachaturov, the deputy minister of defense in 2008 and the acting secretary general of the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), just prior to those arrests actually happening (Lragir.am, September 11). Their discussion of the prospects of the case, Russia’s possible reaction and other issues, were collectively interpreted as proof that the case against Kocharyana and Khachaturov was politically motivated. Remarkably, in the English subtitles of the YouTube video, all proper names were spelled as if the translation had been made not from Armenian, but from Russian. It seems that the material obtained by means of illegal wiretapping had not been publicized immediately in order to use it at a more politically expedient time. On September 13, as a session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe was under way, the head of the Armenian delegation, Arpine Hovhannisyan, who represents the formerly ruling Republican Party of Armenia (RPA), claimed that the criminal charges against former officials were politically motivated. He asked to appoint a monitoring mission to investigate the alleged violations of defendants’ rights and other issues in Armenia (Armlur.am, September 13). Statements by the deputy chair of the RPA, Armen Ashotyan, and the deputy speaker of the National Assembly, Eduard Sharmazanov, considered the staunchest allies of Serzh Sargsyan, also showed that the RPA is content with Kocharyan’s leadership against the government. Sargsyan, who keeps avoiding public statements, may back off for the moment.
Despite intensive propaganda in media outlets controlled by Kocharyan, the RPA, the ARF and their proxies, Pashinyan’s popularity remains high. On September 23, the My Move alliance, backed by Pashinyan’s Civic Contract party, won the Yerevan city council elections, obtaining 57 of 65 seats; the Prosperous Armenia Party, linked to Kocharyan, won just 5 seats; and the Luys alliance consisting of the two parties that had formed an alliance with Civic Contract during the previous parliamentary elections took the remaining 3 seats. Unlike in most previous elections, this time no serious fraud was reported (Azatutyun.am, October 1). The RPA did not participate.
After the Yerevan municipal elections, Pashinyan restated his intention to hold snap parliamentary elections as soon as possible. On October 2, while meeting with journalists at the National Assembly, he announced that parliamentary elections would take place in December. On the same day, the RPA, Prosperous Armenia and ARF factions adopted amendments to the parliament’s procedural rules in order to avoid snap elections (Azatutyun.am, October 2). Pashinyan’s snap elections plan seems to be relying on the constitutional clause that the parliament may be dissolved if the prime minister resigns and the parliament fails to appoint a new prime minister during two sessions. As Pashinyan continues depending on popular support, mass demonstrations could prevent parliamentary members from reaching the chamber and achieving a quorum. However, according to the newly passed amendment, in case of inability to reach a quorum, a parliamentary session is not canceled but considered active and ongoing, so the parliament cannot be dissolved. Now the president has 21 days to either sign and promulgate the new amendments, or appeal to the Constitutional Court (Civilnet.am, October 2).
The legislature’s adoption of the amendment has made the political dispute in Armenia even more heated. Thousands of Pashinyan’s supporters took to the streets in Yerevan and other cities demanding snap elections. As during the run-up to the Yerevan city council elections, it had already become obvious that Prosperous Armenia and ARF would oppose Pashinyan’s course in the future; their attitude expressed on October 2 induced Pashinyan to fire their representatives from six ministerial posts. RPA’s representatives stated they prefer elections to be held in May 2019 (Azatutyun.am, October 3). Two days later, the leader of Prosperous Armenia, Gagik Tsarukyan, hinted that he could back off and support snap elections in December “if that is the popular will” (Civilnet.am, October 5). On October 8, Tsarukyan met with Pashinyan and signed a memorandum expressing his party’s support for December snap elections (Civilnet.am, October 8). First Deputy Prime Minister Ararat Mirzoyan, in turn, held meetings with some RPA representatives (Galatv.am, October 9), and 18 of them expressed support for earlier elections (Armtimes.com, October 9). On October 10, Pashinyan told France 24 TV that he would resign in a few days, so snap elections might take place around December 9–10 (Armenpress.am, October 10). The Luys alliance and parties currently not represented in the parliament also support earlier elections.
As the recent amendment has not yet been promulgated, Pashinyan’s resignation and pushing for snap elections likely reflects an urge to use the current popular support to its maximum potential in order to proceed with economic and social reforms. The next few weeks may determine Armenia’s future political course, which now depends on the government’s ability to tackle the present crisis as well as sustain the course set by the “Velvet Revolution” that brought it to power.