Armenia-2015: change of the political map
The main events in the life of Armenia in the past year were related to the change in the balance of power in the political sphere, as well as conflicts over constitutional reform. The political map of the country changed with the defeat of the party ‘Prosperous Armenia’ (PAP). As a result of the threats voiced by President Serzh Sargsyan against the leader of the PAP, the major businessman Gagik Tsarukyan, and the subsequent pressure exerted by public authorities on Tsarukyan and many of his fellow party members, the authorities managed to neutralize the best-resourced force in the opposition camp. The main project of the President, the adoption of constitutional amendments, could become a very risky task without the support of the PAP.
On February 12th during a meeting of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (RPA), the President made a speech, the main subject of which was the leader of the PAP, in addressing whom insults were even voiced. The President expressed doubt in the ability of Tsarukyan to engage in politics, the PAP leader was called "a pseudo-politician that has no place in politics." Sargsyan urged the leadership of the Parliament to examine the causes of the systematic absences of Tsarukyan at meetings. The prime minister instructed that rumors be verified about non-payment of taxes by Tsarukyan amounting to a billion drams under the guise of charitable activities and openly to present the results of this check. By Presidential decree Tsarukyan was dismissed as a member of the National Security Council. Although the threat has not really been implemented, the pressure of the law enforcement and tax authorities on Tsarukyan and his party was sufficient for the PAP leader to withdraw from politics and the de-ideologized party headed by him has completely changed its political orientation.
As soon as the main financial backer withdrew from the leadership of the PAP, although it declared itself the opposition, in fact it no longer represents any danger to the government, and in reality has turned into the Republican Party. Thus, the PAP, which held the niche of the moderate opposition until February 2015, has moved into the camp of the authorities. Today it plays no role in the political life of the country.
This has weakened the opposition, where the ideologized Radical Party ‘Armenian National Congress’ and the small uninfluential ‘Heritage’ party remain.
The other Armenian parliamentary party ‘Dashnaktsutiun’, despite the fact that its members voted against the draft budget for 2016, is in fact also in the camp of the authorities. A consistent supporter of a parliamentary republic since August 2014, the ‘ARF’ party began to drift toward the government, announcing its intention to move from a presidential to a parliamentary form of government.
As for the ruling Republican Party, it has retained influence through administrative tools, security agencies, financial and information resources. The authorities still firmly control the situation in the country, realizing their primary political task – they managed to uphold the constitutional changes in the Parliament on October 5th and in the national referendum on December 6th.
However, the results of the referendum were not quite those anticipated by the authorities, who wanted a comfortable win. Even according to the official figures, more than 400 thousand voters voted against the constitutional changes. According to observers, the main thing for the vast majority of citizens was not so much the essence of the proposed changes, as an expression of a negative attitude towards the authorities. While it is difficult to say what impact the negative attitude of society to the authorities and their initiative would have on the ruling elite. Now the president is hiding his future plans. But at a press conference held three days before the referendum he did not rule out that he could become the prime minister. Sargsyan actually renounced his previous promises. He does not always keep his promises, and this is a lesson not only for society and the opposition in general, but for his supporters as well.
In the past year three new political parties were formed. For the pro-Western parties ‘Civil Contract’ and ‘Light of Armenia’ it is not ideological doctrine, but foreign policy orientation that is important. The further fate of these parties depends in particular on the financing and the current political situation. The third new power is the party ‘Alliance’ led by Tigran Urihanyayom, a former press secretary of the PAP. Experts do not exclude that the ‘Alliance’ will be patronized by the second president Robert Kocharyan, indicating his possible participation in future political processes.
Anyway, the opposition failed to meet its objective of preventing the adoption of the constitutional amendments. They say the problem of the opposition is the passivity of society. However, the referendum showed that Armenian society, which generally avoids involvement in street protests, will if necessary be able to take an active part in the electoral process. Therefore, characterizing society as absolutely indifferent is inert and does not coincide with reality. The referendum showed that in society, in addition to NGOs that exist due Western grants, there are organizations and civic initiatives (they are few, but they exist), for example, the initiative ‘You Won't Trick Us’ or ‘Citizen Observer’, which are not tied to any grants and ready to defend the interests of citizens.
In short, the processes around the constitutional changes were central to 2015. It would seem that the authorities have decided this task, however, to implement it, it is necessary to live for 2016, which will be difficult in social and economic terms. The changes will take effect only after the parliamentary elections in the spring and summer of 2017.