April Protests Drawing on a New Democracy for Armenia?

Written by: Arriana Dawidziak

April 2018 was a month marked by transparent change for the country of Armenia, challenging where exactly power should be held in the government system and who should be allowed to have it. In light of a newly elected prime minister belonging to a party that has ruled Armenia for 20 years, criticism has spread among the Armenian public with accusations of his corruption. 

April 13th marked what had initially started as eleven days of protests in response to Serzh Sargsyan, the newly elected prime minister of Armenia. The prior month  presented the New Constitution in which the country transitioned  from a presidential system to a parliamentary republic. These changes were enacted by referendums in 2015, in which Sargsyan was president and promised he would not run for prime minister once these changes were made. When the ruling party; the Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) voted Sargsyan to be prime minister,  opponents grew angry. Having already served as the executive head of state for ten years, many were skeptical of his cling to power. 

An interesting question centering around a movement like this follows; if a law says that a president can’t serve for more than a specified amount of time in office, but the president calls for a popular vote on change to the constitution and this allows said leader to run for more terms, can they be considered a democratic? The country of Armenia would say no in Sargsyan’s case. If the president were to leave, the acting prime minister would come into power. The opposition claims that the 2015 referendum changes reflect an intention to deceive and allow the outgoing Sargsyan to continue his rule. Accusations have been made that the referendum results were falsified with visible inconsistencies. If that wasn’t enough to call for his resignation, many say he failed to address tense relations with neighboring countries, poverty, and the country’s dependence on Russia. After Sargsyan’s first election as president in 2008, ten people died in protest clashes and since, 14% of the Armenian population have left the country.

Serzh Sargsyan is seen as the primary influence that led to tens of thousands rallying to form  a self-organized, grassroots network, consisting of Armenian soldiers and clergy figures. The opposition leader, and foremost organizer of the protests, Nikol Pashinyan has called the movement a “Velvet Revolution”, and has stressed the importance of non-violent, populist demonstrations. Through social media activity, protesters have expressed a change of energy, and a strong hope for the future. In the days following their protests, their faith did not fall short. On April 23rd, Sargsyan resigned with a public statement admitting that he was wrong. “Nikol Pashinyan was right. I was wrong. The movement on the streets is against my rule. I’m complying with their demands.”

As a result of talks considered between the Republican Ruling Party and the opposition leader Pashinyan, the world has seen a shift in the energy of the nation. Following the days of protest, Pashinyan demanded that interim transfer of power go to him as he took charge of snap elections. The Republican Party (58 of 105 seats) decided on April 28th that they would not nominate their own candidate in order to avoid “confrontation and destabilization of the country.” Soon after, other parties like Dashnaktsutyun (Armenian Revolution Federation, 7 seats) and Tsarukyan Alliance (2nd largest parliamentary faction, 31 seats) offered their support for Pashinyan for prime minister as parliament voted on May 1st. Pashinyan noted in response that his top priority will be “preparation for free and democratic elections.” Despite the Ruling Republican Party claiming they would not interfere with Pashinyan’s nomination, they voted 55-45 in rejection of his new position. In news of these results, Pashinyan called for a “nationwide peaceful campaign of civil obedience.” The next two days consisted of more protests, only ceasing when Pushinyan announced that all parties will support his candidacy. Currently, the nation awaits another vote scheduled for May 8th. As for Armenia, the protests have proved to be a representation of the transparency and democracy that Armenia has been waiting for. The reelection of Serzh Sargsyan would not have sufficed, especially now that Nikol Pashinyan has been leading the protest-like movement and strives to help lead the nation. With Pashinyan being the only candidate and all factions claiming to be in agreement, there is no doubt that the Armenian public is ready for Pashinyan to assume his new position.