Coronavirus hinders Nikol Pashinyan’s plans
The raging pandemic of the coronavirus COVID-19 to varying degrees affected almost all countries of the world. The countries of the South Caucasus did not stand aside from the negative world processes: the collapse of oil prices put serious pressure on the economy of Azerbaijan, the closure of borders and the introduction of large-scale quarantine restrictions hit the tourism industry and the service sector of Georgia.
While the problems that arise in Azerbaijan and Georgia are mostly of a socio-economic nature, in neighboring Armenia, the situation, in addition to negative economic factors, has a more pronounced political subtext. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, after several unsuccessful attempts to remove the chairman of the Constitutional Court Hrayr Tovmasyan at the end of last and the beginning of this year, went all-in. Wanting to get rid of the current composition of the Constitutional Court and its chairman, whom Pashinyan accuses of being close to the previous government, the Prime Minister put the issue to a popular vote.
This step was an extreme measure, which, incidentally, was negatively taken by the European partners of Nikol Pashinyan. In particular, the Venice Commission openly criticized the actions of the Armenian government, destroying the fragile balance of checks and balances between the branches of government. According to Armenian media, a lot of time was devoted to this problematic issue during the recent visit of Pashinyan to Brussels.
But today it begins to seem that the plans of the prime minister and his faction "My Step" were under attack.
The number of patients with coronavirus in Armenia is steadily growing (15 infected as of March 14), and against this background, the issue of transferring a referendum is becoming increasingly urgent.
Pashinyan has already had to interrupt his vacation and campaign. At the moment, he and his wife Anna Hakobyan are in isolation because of the risk of coronavirus infection. Pashinyan held mass meetings with citizens, while the country already has confirmed cases of coronavirus, many regarded it as irresponsibility.
If the referendum is not postponed and takes place on April 5, the turnout will be low. Elections - a mass event, which is categorically not recommended to attend in a pandemic. So, with a high degree of probability, the referendum, if it is held on April 5, will fail, because the supporters of the YES bloc will not be able to collect the 650,000 votes they need in their support.
If the referendum is postponed, then, firstly, it will be quite difficult to determine its new dates (probably not earlier than July-August this year, otherwise there is a high risk of re-postponement).
Secondly, by that time, citizens would feel the inevitable negative socio-economic consequences of the crisis (a decrease in transfers from abroad, a decrease in exports, a collapse in the tourism and service sectors). The "economic revolution" promised by Pashinyan will drown, and against such a difficult background, any attempts by Pashinyan to campaign in favor of citizens' participation in the referendum will only irritate the broad masses of the population - after all, they will be preoccupied with much more pressing issues than the redistribution of power in the country in favor of the current government .
Finally, the postponement of the referendum will be another chance for Armenia’s international partners to exert external pressure on it in this matter.
Thus, the spread of coronavirus in Armenia can have fatal consequences for the Armenian government. Today, the political fate of Nikol Pashinyan largely depends on how effectively the country's healthcare system under the leadership of Arsen Torosyan can withstand the further spread of the infection. One thing is obvious: the Armenian authorities were somewhat carried away by "PR", placing citizens with suspected coronavirus in five-star hotels, but they were late with more urgent preventive measures. Whether the Armenian voter will forgive this omission will be shown in the near future.