Pashinyan’s Landslide Win in Snap Preliminary Elections is Confirmed as Opposition Challenges the Results
Jul 1, 2021
Nikol Pashinyan’s party won a convincing victory in Armenia’s June 20 snap elections following a campaign defined by inflammatory rhetoric and a national inquest into Armenia’s defeat in the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War late in 2020. Official results indicate that Pashinyan’s Civil Contract Party won 53.91 percent of the vote while former Prime Minister Robert Kocharyan’s Armenia Alliance received 21.9 percent. Although none of the other 20 parties and three alliances cleared the election threshold of five percent for parties and seven percent for blocs, the I Have Honor bloc led by former president and prime minister Serzh Sargsyan that received 5.22 percent of the vote will be represented in parliament because the Armenian constitution requires three parties in the legislature. This means that the votes for those that did not clear the election threshold will be redistributed to the three contenders that enter parliament. In the 107-seat parliament, Civil Contract will have 71 seats, while Armenia Alliance will have 29, and I Have Honor, seven. These results indicate that Civil Contract will greatly exceed the 50 percent majority needed to govern without forming a bloc. In his June 21 victory speech, Pashinyan promised a “solemn ceremony of handing over the steel mandate to the newly elected Prime Minister,” referencing his campaign promise of replacing a “velvet mandate with a steel one” in which he would punish officials who attempted to undermine his power through their office.
International observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) found that the elections were “competitive and well-managed.” Although the OSCE/ODIHR’s observers reported that the “legal framework is generally comprehensive” and “fundamental rights and freedoms were generally respected, with contestants being able to campaign freely,” the elections were “characterized by intense polarization and marred by increasingly inflammatory rhetoric among key contestants.” The report also expressed concern over the sidelining of women throughout the campaign and the adoption of amendments close to the elections that caused “some legal uncertainty.”
The Armenia Alliance, however, has made allegations of election fraud and stated its intention to contest the election results before a Constitutional Court even after the Central Election Committee confirmed Civil Contract’s win. Kocharyan told reporters on June 22 that despite challenging the election results, his bloc will join the new parliament as “parliamentary levers will enable us to work much more actively in other directions.” Kocharyan added that he would probably not become a member of parliament saying he is “more of an executive.” Kocharyan accused authorities of falsifying election results, using their administrative power to attempt to keep Pashinyan in power illegally, and harassing the bloc’s campaigners before the election.
The U.S. Department of State and the EU Mission to Armenia released statements welcoming the positive assessment by the OSCE/ODIHR and calling for parties to address election grievances through established legal frameworks. The U.S. statement reiterated Washington’s commitment to a partnership with Armenia and urged “all parties to respect the rule of law and democratic principles.” Similarly, the EU expressed its support for Armenia in its “important reform agenda based on the joint commitments in the EU-Armenia Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement.”
The Kremlin also backed Pashinyan’s win, with its spokesperson Dmitry Peskov calling the former journalist’s win “convincing.” Both Pashinyan and Kocharyan have expressed support for closer relations with Russia. Despite efforts of liberalization and increased relations with the West under democratically elected Pashinyan, his government has continued Armenia’s pro-Russian foreign policy agenda, most notably through defense ties. In 2019, Armenia deployed 83 military deminers and medics to Russia’s mission in Syria, a move that the United States criticized. Security relations with Russia deepened after the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War when Armenia accepted a Russian-brokered ceasefire with a Russian peacekeeping mission deployed to the region. Therefore, Pashinyan’s reelection as prime minister is unlikely to mean a dramatic foreign policy shift; Armenia will continue to look to Russia as a guarantor of Armenian security and its interests in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Pashinyan’s comprehensive victory should provide his government the mandate it needs to govern following Armenia’s wartime defeat. Without the immediate pressure of an angry electorate, the Civil Contract Party should have room to work towards reconciliation with its neighbors. Though progress will be difficult, Armenia now has the circumstances it needs to embark on this bold path.
Image Source: Lusi Sargsyan/Photolure via Reuters