Pashinyan loses his nerve
The news of the release of his sworn political opponent, Armenia's second president Robert Kocharian, was probably a complete surprise and a painful blow for Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. His Sunday night call for supporters to block the court buildings across the country on Monday morning can be only described as a 'shock reaction'.
Pashinyan's emotionality is not news, but his irrational-panicky behavior in the last two days was not the most pleasant sight even for his faithful base, still living with the ideas of the 'revolution of love and harmony'. Let's try to identify and analyze the most interesting aspects of Armenia's rapidly developing internal political drama of recent days.
First, the PM's call to block the court buildings can be considered political nonsense. If such a statement was made by Nikol Pashinyan, an oppositionist, it would be an acceptable political move. However, he has not been an oppositionist for a year now, he is the Prime Minister of Armenia, and a call for spontaneous blocking of courts is, at least, a rough interference by the executive power in the work of the judiciary. The situation became so absurd that Chairman of the Supreme Judicial Council Gagik Harutyunyan could not leave the building because of the protests and take part in the meeting convened by Pashinyan himself. It's hard to take seriously the comical statement made by chairperson of the My Step block Lilit Makunts that Pashinyan’s appeal has no relation 'to a specific case', that is, the release of Robert Kocharyan. Rather, there is an attempt by Makunts to cover up the leadership's actions, which she doesn't understand.
Second, attention is drawn to the fact that Armenia's social networks users harshly criticized Nikol Pashinyan’s Sunday call. People are tired of taking to the streets on the prime minister's whim. Pashinyan has already received a huge advance of trust from the people, he has a convincing absolute parliamentary majority. Today, the Armenian people expect the government to work efficiently, not holding street marches and actions. Last year’s revolutionary romance no longer works.
Third, it is difficult not to notice Pashinyan’s ambivalent attempts to preserve his popularity. On Sunday, he said that he did not join the protest. In social networks, it caused a wave of negative comments - like, Pashinyan gathers people, and disappears himself. As a result, the next day, the Prime Minister changed his decision and personally joined the actions to block the court buildings. Is it worth saying that the PM participating in such a dubious action distorts his image both at home and abroad? Pashinyan's urgent termination of the action to block the court buildings, probably after realizing its irrelevance, should also be noted. As a result, the action turned out to be crumpled, chaotic and left behind one question: what was it about, actually?
Fourth, the sharply negative reaction of the Prosperous Armenia and the Bright Armenia parties, which were initially considered 'decorative opposition,' to Nikol Pashinyan's actions, whose authority was indisputable a couple of months ago, testifies to growing internal political ferment in Armenia. The position of Armenian President Armen Sarkisyan, who urged everyone to maintain peace and calmness these days, recalling that the judiciary should 'reflect the will of the people', was neither here nor there.
Fifth, the first international reaction shows that the Armenian PM disappoints Western institutions with his behavior as well. Thus, the Director for Special Research at Freedom House, Nate Schenkkan, wrote: "The danger in post-revolutionary Armenia was always that Pashinyan, lacking the ability to transform the country quickly or sustainably, would fall back on the populism that got him into power. Here we are. Don't do this."
The ODIHR, in turn, considered unacceptable the disruption of the normal functioning of the courts, calling on judges and all members of the judiciary to exercise utmost restraint and remain solely in the legal field.
Finally, the detention and search of the secretary of the National Security Council of the unrecognized 'NKR', Vitaly Balasanyan's car in Yerevan draws attention. Balasanyan, being a military man and a respected representative of the Karabakh clan, reckons little with Pashinyan. He has repeatedly been marked by harsh statements against the Prime Minister and his supporters. His detention (allegedly by mistake) is evidence that the fault line between Armenians of Armenia and representatives of the Nagorno-Karabakh regime is widening. This also includes the meeting with the separatist leader Bako Sahakyan requested by the My Step block. There is no doubt that the conversation will not be easy, given the role played by Sahakyan and Arkady Ghukasyan in the release of Robert Kocharyan from custody.
Nikol Pashinyan's words that "time has come to establish a parliamentary commission for investigating causes of the April 2016 events and receiving an answer to a number of the matters of our concern" should also be taken carefully. In the context of accusations addressed to the "former corrupt elite" that they are drawing up a plot and ready to "surrender the territories" for this purpose, Pashinyan’s statement is a retaliatory declaration of war to the Karabakh clan, who openly supported Robert Kocharyan.
Pashinyan’s call to the Karabakh Armenians "to support only those forces that stand from the standpoint of indisputable support of the people of Armenia and their legitimate representative - the government" points to one thing: Pashinyan is preparing to wipe our the disloyal forces in Nagorno-Karabakh. But will he have enough legitimacy and resources for this?