New spiral of velvet revolution in Armenia: intervention of mysterious Russian billionaire

New spiral of velvet revolution in Armenia: intervention of mysterious Russian billionaire
Nikol Pashinyan

The People's Prime Minister against money bag.

The leader of the so-called ‘velvet revolution’ Nikol Pashinyan says that Serzh Sargsyan’s resignation is not enough for the protesters. They want the Republican Party completely removed from power. For this purpose, Pashinyan should become prime minister and hold early parliamentary elections. The blocs Elk and Prosperous Armenia have already put forward his candidacy for the position of head of government, however, they lack 13 votes for the victory. The opposition hopes that part of the Republicans will join them.

Meanwhile, April 25, negotiations between Pashinyan and acting Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan were to take place, but they collapsed. According to Karapetyan, Pashinyan did not want to discuss the political crises – he wanted to use the language of ultimatums. As a result, the velvet revolution leader announced the resumption of protests; armored cars and barbed wire surrounded the Republican Party headquarters.

Karapetyan says that the new prime minister must be elected in parliament, not on the street, and this is not surprising. If Pashinyan has got radical opposition behind him, the acting head of government is supported by the business, including one of the main investors in the Armenian economy, Russian billionaire Ruben Vardanyan, who urgently arrived in Yerevan. 

However, the Republican Party has yet to officially nominate Karapetyan as prime minister; in this connection, the malicious talk has it that he, like his predecessor Sargsyan, may say something like “Pashinyan was right, and I’m not.” On April 25, one of the Elk deputies Ararat Mirzoyan even declared that Karapetyan resigned, however, the prime minister's press secretary soon refuted this information.

In any case, Pashinyan said that if the early elections to parliament took place under the leadership of the Republican Party, he and his supporters would boycott the vote. In particular, they would block polling stations so that no one could throw their ballot. 

Moskovsky Komsomolets interviewed Yerevan experts and participants of the protest to find out how the street confrontation between the opposition and the ruling party is likely to develop:

Gevorg Sanoyan, participant of the protests in Yerevan:

“After Sargsyan resigned, the protesters did not diminish. On the morning of April 25, mostly high school and university students were protesting. By the end of the day, older people joined them. Although, the bulk of the protesters are still young people under 25. It is they who call for Pashinyan to be elected prime minister. The rest want to completely remove the Republican Party from governing the country.

Meanwhile, all major roads of Yerevan remain blocked. I can’t say the country's economy has completely stopped, but the situation is close to this. In this regard, it should be noted that medium and large entrepreneurs sympathize with Karapetyan. Many believe that since September 2016, when he first became prime minister, the conditions for doing business in the country have improved. They also consider Pashinyan a good person, but it's one thing to be the voice of the street, and the other is to manage the state, attract investment, and so on.

Pashinyan is waiting for early parliamentary elections to consolidate his victory over Sargsyan's team. At the same time, he wants to remove the so-called ‘rating vote’ from the electoral system, which allows the Republican Party to win at the expense of influential figures in the regions. Pashinyan is well aware that if this does not happen, he will have 20-30% at best. However, even after this reform, it is not clear what he will offer the voters in the elections. Pashinyan’s Civil Agreement has no specific action program. The movement is guided by the fight against corruption, the domination of oligarchs, and so on. But there has been no getting beyond the general phrases so far.”

Grant Mikaelyan, researcher at the Caucasus Institute:

“Pashinyan’s party will win the early parliamentary elections, by a large margin. It is the same case with the vote for the people's prime minister – one whose name Pashinyan gives will become the prime minister. This is the political culture of Armenia – if it is deemed that Pashinyan should win, everyone will vote for him. If the confidence in Karapetyan's victory prevails, he will win.

Of course, that’s still about two months away from the early elections, if they do take place; during this time, anything can happen, given that there is no reliable political sociology in Armenia. Nevertheless, it should be borne in mind that during its reign, the Republican Party eviscerated all other political forces. The party itself held on to the administrative resource. In early elections, it will lose its advantage, and it will turn out that Pashinyan does not have serious competitors.

But for the time being, it is the negotiation process between the leader of the Civil Agreement and Karapetyan, who represents the interests of the Republican Party, which is important. Most likely, the parties can agree on the fact that Pashinyan will become the premier, and in return, he will save jobs for the technocrats appointed by the Republicans. At the same time, the former representatives of the ruling elite will not be persecuted. Apparently, this was to be discussed on April 25, but Karapetyan cancelled those negotiations, as Pashinyan wanted to broadcast their meeting live. He did this because in this format, the Republicans will not be able to bargain for themselves.

If they fail to reach an agreement, the political crisis will continue, and it will be very difficult to find a way out. In any case, there are three options: parties will come to some political decision, or there will be a revolution, or a state of emergency will be declared. It won’t cease by itself.”

Aleksandr Markarov, head of the Armenian branch of the Institute of CIS countries: 

“There are several scenarios in the current situation. First, the National Assembly must fail twice to vote for the Prime Minister. After that, the parliament declares its dissolution and appoints elections, which are to be held in 45 days. Thus, the whole procedure should take about two months. It's no guarantee that Pashinyan won’t lose his popularity during this time and be able to last until the parliamentary elections fully armed. In particular, his Civil Agreement is a relatively small organization, which is now very popular; but it still needs to be reformatted into an institutional force for use in the pre-election race. In turn, the remaining parliamentary parties, including the Republicans, have cast their nets throughout the country, which gives them a certain advantage in the elections to be held in two months, when things cool down. It's no guarantee that Pashinyan will win the parliamentary majority on the basis of voting results; after that, he will lose the moral right to claim the post of prime minister.

Second, the parliament may elect Pashinyan as prime minister following the square. Suppose, the deputies will be forced to do this by a thousand-strong rally under the walls of the National Assembly. But Elk has only 7% of votes in the parliament, which also split after Pashinyan launched the velvet revolution. Even if after the victory Pashinyan refuses to deal with the Republican Party and Dashnaktsutyun, he will still need an ally. Gagik Tsarukyan’s Prosperous Armenia will fulfil that role. This partnership will seriously weigh on Pashinyan, since he will have to declare a fight against the oligarchs, while relying on one of them. He will create an interim government, hold parliamentary elections in the country; but then again, it is not clear how such an alliance will affect his popularity. In addition, this won’t change the fact that the Civil Agreement will be inferior in its resources to other parliamentary parties in the pre-election race. At the same time, thanks to the current protests, Pashinyan can count on the fact that his party will have more places than now in the new parliament. And do this independently, without Elk.

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