Armenia’s 2021 Election Prospects

Armenia’s 2021 Election Prospects

Armenia has a new parliament, but the ruling party is the same. Armenia’s Snap Parliamentary Elections explained. 

Text: Zareh-Sevag Sarkissian


Sunday, June 20th was the day that saw the 2021 Armenian Snap Parliamentary Elections take place. These elections were scheduled in early 2021 after they had been already declared once following the mass opposition protests ensuing from the catastrophic military defeat in Artsakh; which were later promptly cancelled by a unanimous “My Step” party decision as soon as the street opposition simmered down and coincidentally after former President Kocharyan announced his participation. Nevertheless, tensions were cooled down through President Sarkissian’s mediation and the necessary steps were taken which eventually led to the decision to conduct elections in Spring 2021.

 

Surprising results

Overall, the snap parliamentary election results have been surprising to many, with essentially only 3 groups passing the 5% parliamentary threshold, and a voter turnout of 49.4% according to the data released by the Central Electoral Commission (CEC). 

Acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s “Civil Contract” Party won with a lead of 53.92%, the “Armenia” Alliance coalition with leading former-president Robert Kocharyan earned 21.04% of the vote, while the “I Have Honour” alliance headed by the former head of the National Security Service Artur Vanetsyan gained 5.23%. There are several reasons as to why the dramatic shift took place between what result was expected in the previously-inducted polls and the ensuing voting reality on Sunday. 

An initial reason would have to be the numerous violations of electoral law to favour specific candidates’ vote volume at the expense of other candidates. This is manifested in the “Armenia” Alliance’s recent will to apply to the constitutional court and unacceptance of the election results as was addressed to the press by candidate Vahe Hakobyan. Hakobyan also stated that Pashinyan’s unexpected win of 53.66% of the votes in Syunik was not possible, adding that there was fraud through forcing soldiers to vote and other such ways as what he described to be "mobile groups."

Photo from "Armenia" Alliance official Facebook page

 

Registered frauds

However, it seems most of these actions of electoral fraud took place in the outskirt’s regions, where election monitoring was not as efficient as in the more populated and urban areas. Here are some cases of fraud that occurred and were registered by monitors/ observers and independent journalists.

●    Some ballots in several polling stations were printed in longer sizes than others, which made them unfit for envelopes or caused damage; and thus, rendering them uncountable. 

●    In polling station 2/7, voters were directed to vote for Acting PM Pashinyan’s party.

●    In Noraduz 19/11 polling station, “My Step” MP Hayk Sargsyan’s people were openly directing voters to vote for Acting PM Pashinyan.

●    In the 15/39 polling station, the chairperson of Pashinyan’s “Civil Contract” party commission in Haytagh, Armavir, Arev Grigoryan entered the voting booth after voting and checked if her party’s ballots were missing by opening ballot boxes.

●    In Shengavit 8/7, a vote took place in the place of a deceased person. 

●    In Vayots Dzor 36/1, a “Civil Contract” ballot cut at 3 spots was recognised as valid; whereas, in other places, “Armenia” Alliance ballots were rejected due to slight printing imperfections.

●    Instances of voting buying by supporters linked to the opposition parties.

Independent of such cases, though, which were unlikely to dramatically change the voting outcome, the underlying reason was the people’s sincere desire to not have the old regime return under any circumstance. A sizable sum of citizens did not participate in the first place, and the reasons could range from them living abroad, indifference, having low morale in the sense that their vote will not make a real change anyway, and more…

 

Pashinyan vs Kocharyan: Predictions

Though many polls indicated that the end result would be close between candidates Pashinyan and Kocharyan, the majority of them showed a clear lead for the former. The most recent pre-election polls had estimated that 22.4% of respondents would vote for the “Civil Contract” party, 20.6% for the Hayastan (“Armenia” Alliance) bloc, and 3.9% for the “I Have Honour” bloc. It is interesting to note that the predictions for the Civil Contract party had dropped from 33% since February 2021, and in contrast, it had risen in favour of Robert Kocharyan who had a mere 2% support. 

There was an exception with a poll from Gallup International Association, headquartered in Baghramyan Avenue, that showed favourable results to ex-President Kocharyan and put him in first place. However, polls from this organisation were questionable as Gallup has no relation to Gallup Inc. headquartered in Washington D.C, and is owned by Serzh Sargsyan’s son-in-law, Mikayel Minasyan. Thus, its projections could have highly likely been politically motivated.

 

Fear of Kocharyan’s Return

Nevertheless, the outcome shows the citizens’ clear preference of the Civil Contract party and its head Nikol Pashinyan as Prime Minister who can appeal to the masses; while at the same time showcasing the “Armenia” Alliance leaders’ inability to communicate and connect with the lower-class citizens who bear the brunt of the troubles in Armenia. Pashinyan certainly had a large follower base, to begin with, and given the previous totalitarian regime-type of the Soviet-era within Armenia’s past, it seems likely that people feared or mistrusted giving their true opinion in the polls that were conducted over the phone. Since that means that a person’s address and whereabouts could be known, which most likely caused people to withhold the truth or lie in order to not face a reprisal of any kind. 

Moreover, the two terms that ex-President Kocharyan had served during the years 1998-2008 has incited a bitter resentment towards him and his days of perceived oppression and high corruption. This is mainly due to his authoritarian regime rule, and the numerous assassinations, murder, and assault accusations he has accumulated throughout his tenure. Given that the only other practical candidate, Nikol Pashinyan, who in his supporters’ point of view has more perceived positives than negatives, was running as well, people voted him to make certain that “Armenia” Alliance candidate Robert Kocharyan would not win the PM seat. 

Many experts have already deduced that Nikol Pashinyan’s votes would have been at least half of what they are now, had Kocharyan not been his main opponent within the electoral campaign. The outcome is favourable to Armenian statehood on many levels. Yet, the soon-to-be Prime Minister Pashinyan would be incorrect to think of this as a new mandate to himself. It is more or less a rejection of the old regime and a second chance given to him by the people of Armenia who were in fear of having the former authorities return to power. 

Photo from Nikol Pashinyan's official Facebook page

 

Time to Act More as a Statesman

Given the new chance, the Prime Minister has, he should act more as a statesman and not a populist leader within the government. His focus should be first and foremost directed at national security in which he has greatly failed in properly conducting; as well as implementing the fundamental reforms necessary to reach a better level of governance and enhancing the situation of the country which his administration had long neglected. It is also a good sign that the parliamentary presence consists of more serious opposition than before, which creates a unity government, albeit, in unbalanced proportions, that may enact proper foreign policymaking, diplomatic missions, military reform, and sorting out all the issues that have crippled the country.

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