Elections in Armenia: The Switch to a Parliamentary Form of Government
2 April, 2017

Armenia held its first parliamentary elections since the country voted to transition from a semi-presidential republic to a parliamentary republic back in 2015. Hromadske spoke to Hovannes Nikoghosyan, adjunct lecturer at the American University of Armenia, about what these elections mean for the political future of Armenia.

We know there is a new system, there is a parliamentary election in Armenia, switching to a parliamentary republic from a semi-presidential republic. Generally, how are the elections going? How would you assess the day’s events?

The elections are so far so good. There are irregularities, obviously, recorded by many parties around, including almost 20,00 observers, including those from the OSCE, and other internal and international organisations. But, the quality of the irregularities is suggesting that they are only scattered in different precincts, and barely systematic. What I think is more important, that I can elaborate deeper about, is the meaning of these elections. These are the first parliamentary elections following the constitutional amendments of December 2015, as you rightly mentioned, transitioning Armenia into a fully-fledged parliamentary republic, which is [the direction] Armenia has been going, since reestablishment of it’s independence in 1990, actually. The declaration of independence in August 1990 proclaimed a parliamentary republic, then the first constitution was adopted to establish a strong presidential system, following Karabakh in 1995. Then the constitution was amended in 2005, transitioning to a semi-presidential system, and now we are going where we originally belonged, the parliamentary system.

Still, what does it mean in practice? Since we can assume that if the governing party, the Republican Party, get most of the votes, the parliament will vote for the president next year. So what can we expect? What political changes can we expect from this new parliament? Of course, we don’t know the results yet, but maybe you could also elaborate more on that. What would the impact be?

Well basically, the textbook explanation of the changes, is that in parliamentary republics, the political system becomes stronger, the political parties become stronger and you, and there is the gradual transition of individualistic parties, to one-man shows basically, to a more systematic political system. Political parties are more sophisticated, there is more room for political parties to discuss and arrive at a consensus.

What would it mean from the point of view from political ideology?  Can we expect any political change and the change of the political path of Armenia? There are 5 parties taking part in this election, and there are 4 political blocs, so would we expect that there will be the same governing party in Armenia? And would there be any change in their internal policy, as well as external foreign policy?

Let me dwell on the foreign policy part. By far, all the political parties, and blocs, as you rightly mentioned, contesting in these elections, barely have any differences in  foreign policy agenda. With maybe one exception, all the parties are arguing for stronger ties with Russia, for the maintenance of closer ties with the European Union, for stronger ties with the United States, and basically continuing this foreign policy of balance that Armenia has been following for a number of years now. But obviously, since the political parties have no basic changes in their foreign policy platforms, they also don’t have any major differences on their approaches to a Nagorno-Karabakh resolution. With the exception of one, the Armenian National Congress led by the first president of the country, says that the Republic of Armenia shall move faster towards building consensus with Azerbaijan.

What is the difference between the parties, if we are speaking about the Armenian population?

Well the difference is very banal, to put it that way, given the recent electoral circles in many more developed countries. The party in government, the Republicans are trying to be more reserved, more accurate with their promises to the electorate.They have been running this campaign on the premises of security and progress, and they have been saying that they are ready for change, we will change ourselves and we will change our country; we are ambitious enough for that and we have enough professionals for that. The others are not shy to be give more populist promises to the populations, obviously, as well as to the external powers. For example, one of the political blocs, the so-called ‘Tsarukyan Bloc’, the leader of this bloc, who is one of the richest men in the country, promised a 15 billion investment in the Armenian economy, which shortly after became the subject of trolling for the other parties - one of those parties was promising 17 million, and the other 22 billion. The Communist Party, for example, which is also running in this election - surprisingly,- has promised a 100 billion dollar investment, which obviously, I think is just funny. But, that is just to say that the political campaign has been marked by both, some reasonable and measured promises by the party in government, by the majority party, and by the very much populist promises from the other parties, promising more jobs, more social security guarantees, a better healthcare system, and everything which hasn’t been backed, however, by economic analysis for example. The ideological campaign, as you are phrasing it, has been missing in these elections. It was more for the governing party to argue that they will be keeping up with the reforms, and for the others scattering these different populist promises, just taking on the mood of the electorate and not based in calculations or analysis. It has been pretty much 21st century campaigning, this post-truth politics thing, with a a lot of fact-checking being done by the media - by the way.

Read more: Elections In Armenia. A Decisive Day