Armenia’s “Self Appointed” Premier Seeks Legitimacy With Snap Elections as Protests Continue

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan is already suffering from a case of “be careful what you wish for” even though thus far he has got everything he has wanted without any significant resistance. Throughout April, Pashinyan led street protests in Yerevan where the once suited and shaved newspaper oligarch donned a baseball cap, backpack, camouflage shit and beard as the self-styled “man of the people” led what looked like a colour revolution minus the ethno-religious hatred – something which is literally impossible in a homogeneous state like Armenia. It later emerged that he was advised by a think tank to “remake his image” to look more in tune with the street, but that not withstanding, the backpack is off and Pashinyan is now in power.

Pashinyan’s road to power was achieved one part through blackmail and the other part through peaceful and wilful capitulation to that blackmail on the part of the Prime Minister he ousted. On 23 April, long serving President turned Premier Serzh Sargsyan resigned stating that he preferred a peaceful transition of power to a bloody one. Not content with ousting Sargsyan whose Republican Party had won a majority in the unicameral National Assembly as recently as April of 2017, Pashinyan continued to mobilise protesters who agitated for Pashinyan to become Prime Minister himself.

On the 1st of May, the National Assembly failed to give Pashinyan enough votes to become Prime Minister, even though he was running in a one-man election. The problem here was that Pashinyan’s own party, the Way Out Alliance only had 9 seats in a 105 seat Assembly and was not able to court enough votes from the ruling Republicans to win the vote for the Premiership.

After some behind the scenes horse trading and  further protests, on the 8th of May, members of the Republican Party surrendered to what many were calling the “inevitable” and voted for Pashinyan in a further one man election.

Since then, protesters have continued to march in Yerevan, much to the chagrin of Pashinyan who is now telling the protesters to go home as they have clearly outlived their usefulness to him. However, because the Assembly over which Pashinyan rules as Prime Minister is still comprised of a majority of Republican deputies, Pashinyan is seeking fresh elections in order to try and attain a majority for his own party.

If he gets his wish and if his party wins a majority in new elections, it would appear that the Republican members of the Assembly who voted for a Pashinyan premiership as a kind of short-sighted olive branch, may have accidentally voted themselves out of a job.

While Pashinyan’s opponents are quickly learning that the more they give him – the more he continues to demand, what Pashinyan himself ought to be learning is that the “revolution” that brought him to power may well turn its attention to him. In this sense, it would appear the protesters have learned from Pashinyan that the more one complains and agitates, the more one will eventually get one’s wish. The difference is that this time the protesters and Pashinyan are wishing for something different.

Armenians protesters were in reality one part those who are either coaxed or persuaded by Pashinyan himself to take to the streets while the other major sectors of protesters were those who saw the bloodless event as a kind of street festival. In this mix were those who genuinely want important anti-corruption/anti-oligarch economic reforms in the landlocked and economically poor state.

As in reality, Pashinyan was, like the rest of Armenians elite class, just another oligarch, it would seem that many Armenians are demanding something more than an just another oligarch with a ‘street fighter’ makeover and instead would like a genuine people’s leader. Such a man was never going to be Pashinyan in any case and because of this, he may find that in new elections, young candidates who don’t follow Pashinyan nor his predecessors may be able to mount a serious challenge to the old elite which Pashinyan has always been a part of and still is.

Thus, Pashniyan’s rebukes towards protesters to go home and start supporting him, may end up being self-defeating as the “revolution” Pashinyan and his handlers helped to create might actually grow into a genuine revolution calling for genuine change.

Those protesting on the streets may not have any personal animosity towards the man they helped to attain power, but now that he is in power and it doesn’t appear as though too much will change on the domestic front, the “revolution” may eat its own and produce a leader who is generally from outside of the political mainstream.

While Pashinyan struggles with the “west-east” balancing act from a place of weakness, just as his predecessors have done, it may be that a new leader is among the protesters and in this sense, Pashinyan is facing the long term risk of meeting the fate of Serzh Sargsyan based on the very precedents that Pashinyan himself created.

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