Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Armenian News... A Topalian... Support for Pashinian to be PM

BBC News
2 May 2018
Armenian Parliament Majority Signals Support For Pashinian’s Bid To Be PM 
Ruzanna Stepanian
Karlen Aslanian
Emil Danielyan

In a dramatic about face, the ruling Republican Party (HHK) indicated on Wednesday that it will not prevent opposition leader Nikol Pashinian form becoming Armenia’s prime minister when the parliament again discusses his candidacy on May 8.

The HHK’s parliamentary faction said it will again refrain from nominating a candidate for prime minister and will “help” instead another candidate, backed by at least one third of parliament deputies, take up the country’s top executive post.

The announcement followed a meeting between HHK lawmakers and former Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian held in the parliament building in Yerevan. It came the day after 56 of the 105 members of the National Assembly, all of them affiliated with the HHK, voted against Pashinian’s becoming prime minister.

The HHK move paves the way for Pashinian’s premiership seeing as the parliament’s second largest faction led by businessman Gagik Tsarukian said that it continues to support his bid to replace Sarkisian. Tsarukian made this clear after talks held with Pashinian.

“We continue to stand by the people’s candidate,” Tsarukian told reporters as he and Pashinian emerged from a Yerevan hotel located on Republic Square, the main venue of huge rallies held by the opposition leader. He insisted that Pashinian’s coming to power would formalize “the victory of the people.”

The Tsarukian Bloc holds 31 parliament seats. Pashinian is also supported by the Yelk alliance and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, which control another 16 seats.

A total of 45 deputies voted for Pashinian at the end of Tuesday’s lengthy and heated parliament debate during which HHK lawmakers questioned the 42-year-old protest leader’s fitness to run the country. They claimed, in particular, that he would not make a strong commander-in-chief of Armenia’s armed forces.

The parliament’s refusal to install Pashinian as prime minister led him to urge supporters to widen their “civil disobedience” actions. Scores of them blocked many streets in Yerevan and highways leading to the capital on Wednesday morning, bringing much of Armenia to a standstill.

Armenian Culture Minister Armen Amirian stepped down later in the day. He gave no reason for the move.

“The Republic of Armenia will have a constitutionally elected prime minister on May 8,” said the statement read out by the party’s parliamentary leader Vahram Baghdasarian to reporters.

“The HHK will not nominate a candidate for prime minister,” it said. “The HHK will help the candidate to be nominated by one-third of the parliament to become prime minister.”

The statement attributed the U-turn to the need to “immediately put the country back on a stable course.” It urged the Pashinian-led movement to unblock streets and roads and stop “propaganda of intolerance.”

The statement also said that Pashinian failed to address the most important of concerns that were raised by HHK lawmakers during Tuesday’s parliament debate. “These issues are crucial not for the HHK but the very future of our country,” it said.

Pashinian, meanwhile, said that his rise to power is now “practically” a forgone conclusion as he addressed tens of thousands of supporters who again filled Yerevan’s Republic Square on Wednesday evening.

“The people of Armenia have won and they will keep wining from now on,” he told the crowd that repeatedly chanted “Victory!” and “Nikol prime minister!”

Citing the HHK statement, Pashinian urged supporters to stop blocking streets and staging other protests for now. He said he expects at least 35 parliament deputies to formally nominate him for prime minister on Thursday.

“If all goes well we will take some rest and prepare for the prime minister’s election,” he added nearly three weeks after launching his unexpectedly successful campaign for regime change in Armenia.

May 2 2018
Armenian Opposition Leader Pauses Protests, With New Hope For Prime Minister Bid
Colin Dwyer 

Just one day after rejecting an influential opposition leader's bid to become prime minister, Armenia's ruling party appears ready to relent.
At a rally in the capital city of Yerevan, Nikol Pashinyan told his supporters Wednesday that Republican Party lawmakers expressed willingness to back his candidacy — and he called on those supporters to pause a general strike that had lasted less than 24 hours.

"Tomorrow," he said, according to The Associated Press, "we will work in parliament."

The announcement marks an abrupt pivot for the country, where tensions just hours earlier seemed about to boil over — with tens of thousands of protesters heeding Pashinyan's call to block major roadways, interrupt railway service and cut access to Armenia's main international airport.

And all with one main goal in mind: The demonstrators want Pashinyan, the 42-year-old former journalist who has led weeks of protests against the ruling party, to replace the man he helped oust last month, Serzh Sargsyan.

Sargsyan, who spent a decade as president before being term-limited out of office earlier this year, was elected by the National Assembly to slide into the role of prime minister — but he resigned not long afterward, under pressure from protesters who saw the move as a cynical ploy to evade term limits.    
That left Pashinyan as the sole candidate for prime minster.

Opposition lawmaker Nikol Pashinyan, clad in his trademark camouflage shirt and backpack, addresses supporters in Yerevan on Wednesday, just one day after the Republican Party derailed his bid for premier.  Sergei Grits/AP  hide caption            

But Sargsyan's Republican Party doomed Pashinyan's bid by withholding its support during Tuesday's vote — leaving Pashinyan short of the required majority. The party controls a majority in the country's parliamentary body, the National Assembly, and the National Assembly, in turn, elects the prime minister.

Lawmakers must hold another election within seven days. If they should fail again to award one candidate a majority of votes for prime minister, the lawmaking body will be dissolved and replaced via a general election.
The standoff might not get that far, however.

On Wednesday, as protests roiled cities across the country, the head of the party's caucus appeared more open to a second bid by Pashinyan when the National Assembly holds another vote next week.

Vahram Baghdasarya, in an attempt to quell what he called an "unacceptable situation," said his party won't field a candidate of its own but will support any candidate nominated by one-third of parliament — though Baghdasarya didn't mention Pashinyan by name.

The implications were clear to Pashinyan, though. He believes that he already has enough support to meet that threshold. Local media report that he expects three parliamentary parties to renominate him for prime minister Thursday.

"The movement, the revolution will win and it is just a matter of time," Pashinyan told Al Jazeera on Wednesday.

"Now people are not fighting for me," he added. "Everyone is fighting and standing up for their own dignity, their own family, their rights, their future and the future of their children.

Chatham House, UK
May 2 2018
Armenia Crisis Deepens as Ruling Party Clings to Power
by Laurence Broers
Associate Fellow, Russia and Eurasia Programme 

Armenian politics now turns around a dangerous combination of a new constitution designed to preserve incumbents and a regime that has long lost legitimacy. 

Following the resignation of Serzh Sargsyan on 23 April, Armenia’s parliament voted on 1 May against the election of the leader of the last fortnight’s protest movement, Nikol Pashinyan, as his interim successor.

Armenia’s political impasse follows two weeks of remarkable, non-violent confrontation on the streets of Yerevan and other cities. An escalating campaign of civil disobedience challenged former president Sargsyan’s attempt to prolong his rule as the country’s prime minister. 

But while Sargsyan has resigned, the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) retains a parliamentary majority of 58 seats in the 105-member body. It used that majority to deny victory to Pashinyan, the only candidate put forward for the post of interim prime minister.

Pashinyan mustered 45 votes, cast by his own Yelq (‘Way Out’) bloc and two other parties, Prosperous Armenia and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun). This was eight votes short of the simple majority he needed to become interim prime minister.
Trial by television

The vote came after a marathon, tense parliamentary session watched by tens of thousands of Pashinyan supporters on Yerevan’s main Republican Square and citizens across Armenia.

Over eight hours, parliamentary deputies debated Pashinyan’s candidacy and the crisis engulfing Armenia. The debates gave clear indications of the lines around which the struggle to come will be waged.

Security concerns featured highly in Republican Party reasoning against Pashinyan’s candidacy. One deputy declared that he could not see Pashinyan in the role of commander-in-chief. Others drew an apocalyptic picture of military disaster should he become leader. As if on cue, some state-related Twitter accounts, such as the official account of Armenia’s representation to the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), reported Azerbaijani movements towards the frontline.

Ruling party deputies also cast themselves in the role of defenders of the constitution. They highlighted that all parties had accepted the outcome of the April 2017 parliamentary vote on which the current body is based. They accused Pashinyan of bending the legal parliamentary majority to his will by the force of the street.

The ‘constitutionality’ of Armenia’s new constitution, adopted in a contested national referendum in December 2015, is itself a moot point for many in Armenian civil society. Local observers claimed numerous cases of irregularities, interference and intimidation. Beyond this, the statistical foundations of the poll, such as a growing electorate, made little sense in light of Armenia’s well-known demographic decline.

Other RPA arguments depicted the schism in Armenian society in terms of a ‘culture war’ between the ruling party’s ‘patriarchal normalcy’ and Pashinyan’s ‘dangerous liberalism’. Many speeches by RPA deputies appeared to completely ignore the events of the previous two weeks. Others patronized the electorate. Some, making references to Pashinyan’s beard and attire, were astonishingly banal given the gravity of the situation.

What next?
As per the new constitution, on 8 May another parliamentary vote for an interim leader will take place. This raises the question of whether there is an alternative consensus figure. Acting Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan and President Armen Sarkissian have both called for cross-party talks, but there is no obvious candidate for this role. An inconclusive vote on 8 May would trigger new parliamentary elections within three to six weeks.

If this comes to pass, the RPA would have successfully averted amendments to the electoral laws that Pashinyan has been calling for before any new poll.  This translates into its continued advantage in terms of the composition of electoral commissions, and the evasion of new measures against the possibility of fraud.

The 1 May parliamentary vote makes it less likely that there will be a pact to transfer power in Armenia. The RPA has effectively refused Pashinyan’s offer, reiterated over the last fortnight, of participating in an inclusive transition.
This solves one problem but creates another. On the one hand, while prolonging RPA rule for now, it lessens the likelihood of a political transition diluted by inclusion of representatives of the prior regime.

This has been a problem in Armenia’s post-Soviet history. As Gerard Libaridian, former presidential advisor and envoy under Armenia’s first president Levon Ter-Petrosyan, has written, there were no witch-hunts and no clashes in the negotiated transition from communist rule to the Armenian National Movement in 1989–90. But the continuity in many sectors that resulted allowed the same political failures to repeat, making for a peaceful but incomplete revolution.
On the other hand, the elusiveness of pacts among the country’s political elite raises the stakes and consequently the prospect of destabilization. Democratic openings in hybrid regimes involved in long-term militarized rivalries (as Armenia is with Azerbaijan) come with the risk that, given weak institutions, politicians will resort to nationalist populism.

Rhetoric claiming that change can only come at the cost of security will be a prominent and dangerous aspect to post-Sargsyan Armenian politics. After a vivid demonstration over the last two weeks of how fragile the authoritarian alternative really is, there is deep irony in such claims.

There were plenty of examples of such claims from RPA deputies yesterday.  But Pashinyan also ended yesterday’s session by accusing the RPA of reproducing Azerbaijani propaganda. This is rhetoric to be avoided. Realigning debates about governance around the axis of conflict with Azerbaijan will only divert attention from the necessity and legitimacy of change. Entrenched corruption and hollowed out institutions are security threats as serious for Armenia today as any external factor.

The only certainty is that Armenia is in for a season of destabilizing politics: exactly what the ruling elite’s constitutional power grab claimed it was avoiding. 

No comments: