Who Is Nikol Pashinyan, The Armenian Protest Leader?
1 May, 2018

After a day-long session, the Armenian parliament came no closer to electing a new prime minister. It was expected that opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan would be voted for that role in the parliamentary session today.

However, Pashinyan came just a few votes short of being elected, receiving 45 votes for and 55 against his candidacy.

"Mr. Pashinyan, you're a good member of parliament," Arman Saghatelyan, a member of the incumbent Republican Party, said during today's session. "But you're not qualified to be a prime minister."

This comes after the Republicans decided not to support Pashinyan today. Earlier, they promised to vote unanimously but did not specify whether it would be for or against the opposition leader.

READ MORE: Armenia To Elect New PM On May 1

According to the Armenian constitution, when a PM is not elected, a new election should be held in seven days. This election is now scheduled to take place on May 8. 

If elected, Pashinyan is expected to announce snap parliamentary elections. According to the Armenian constitution, those elections would need to take place no earlier than 30 days and not later than 45 days after the parliament’s dissolution. 

Pashinyan's way into politics

Pashinyan came into politics after working as a journalist. Now 42, he started attending university in 1990 when the Soviet Union was collapsing. As a journalist, Pashinyan wrote hard-hitting stories on internal politics, as well as served as an editor at the publications “Haykakan zhamanak” and “Ogagir.” A couple of days before he was to graduate, Pashinyan got expelled from his university, a decision that he claims was taken on political grounds.

During the 2007 parliamentary elections in Armenia, Pashinyan headed the Impeachment Bloc. The bloc’s agenda was the dismissal of the then-President Robert Kocharyan and that of the then-Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan (the same Serzh Sargsyan who resigned on April 23 after the widespread protests hit Armenia). But the Impeachment Bloc only managed to gain slightly over 1% of votes.

READ MORE: What’s Next For Armenia Following A Government Reshuffle?

When Serzh Sargsyan won the presidential election in 2008, protests broke out across Armenia, which quickly turned bloody. Eight civilians and one soldier died while over 300 people were hospitalized. But back then, Pashinyan was not taken seriously in the world of politics: Levon Ter-Petrosyan, Armenia’s first president, was considered the opposition leader while Pashinyan was accused of inciting chaos and, as a result, put on a wanted list.

For over a year, Pashinyan hid from the government to avoid justice until finally, he turned himself in to the police in 2009. The politician was sentenced to seven years of imprisonment, the sentence later reduced. The next year, he was amnestied as part of the celebrations of the 20th anniversary of Armenia.

But while in the 2000s Pashinyan was perceived as a radical oppositionist, today everyone – including the government and the police – speaks highly of the politician. They attribute the fact that this spring's protests have been peaceful to Pashinyan.

READ MORE: As It Happened: Second Week of Protests in Armenia

In September 2017, Pashinyan took part in the Yerevan mayor elections but lost to Taron Margaryan who comes from a popular Armenian political dynasty.

Despite Pashinyan's party Elk only winning less than 8% of votes in the 2017 parliamentary elections, political analysts and protesters in Armenia don’t see any alternative to him. Pashinyan was one of the first politicians who called for the people to go to the streets this April, the events that led to the resignation of the Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan.

Pashinyan's views and agenda

When it comes to Pashinyan's private life, he positively stands out from many politicians in Armenia. If many lawmakers from the Republican Party are also businessmen who try to defend their interests, Pashinyan doesn't own any business. His assets are declared and public. 

His looks also differ from those of other politicians in the country. Often dressed in a simple camouflage t-shirt and a baseball cap, he clearly made an effort when he came suited to today's parliamentary session. 

READ MORE: Protests In Yerevan: The Face Of Change

Pashinyan has a wife and four kids. The opposition leader considers South African leader Nelson Mandela his inspiration.

Pashinyan's Elk is a liberal alliance aimed at restoring free trade with the European Union. But despite that, Pashinyan has never spoken about the Kremlin negatively.

He told the BBC Russian service that even if anything changes in the Armenian-Russian relations after his election, it will be a "positive change.” 

However, a source close to Pashinyan told Hromadske that the oppositionist’s plan is to change the government first and only then rid the country of Russia’s influence.

Pashinyan also previously said that he wants to deepen Armenia’s relations with the European Union, US, Iran, Georgia and “with all the partners in general.” 

READ MORE: Armenia Commemorates Genocide Amid Civil Unrest