On June 20, less than three years later, the citizens of Armenia will go to the polls for the second snap parliamentary elections. Before the snap elections in December 2018 took place as a result of a nationwide revolution, Nikol Pashinyan was brought to power, the upcoming elections are taking place against the backdrop of Pashinyan’s continued demands for Pashinyan’s resignation by opposition groups. The motives for the two snap elections were very different in nature, but equally important. The 2018 elections were about the promise of democratic unification, and the June 2021 elections were about the future security of the country.
The war between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh between September and November ended in Armenia agreeing to what many observers in the country perceived as a “humiliating capitulation” that led to a shift in the balance of power between the two neighboring countries. After the initial shock of the defeat, the protesters began to gather in Yerevan, the capital, demanding Pashinyan’s resignation, calling him a “traitor”, questioning Armenia’s ability to ensure security. Despite their best efforts, the protesters failed to gather enough criticism to force Pashinyan to resign.
In March 2021, however, Pashinyan finally came under increasing political pressure, hinting that snap parliamentary elections could be held by the end of the year. A month later, he resigned, and the National Assembly refused to elect a new prime minister, formally calling for snap elections.
After the announcement of the date of the snap elections, the Armenian political field witnessed a great vortex, where the existing political parties began to unite to form electoral blocs. In the end, 26 political groups were officially registered: four electoral blocs and 22 parties. The leaders of these groups are Pashinyan’s Civil Contract Party, the main opposition “Armenia Alliance” led by former President Robert Kocharyan. According to the latest opinion polls, the “Civil Contract” and “Armenia Alliance” are within each other’s mistakes to assume the leading position.
Many candidates will run in the upcoming snap elections for two main reasons. First, the crushing defeat of Armenia in the war provided an opportunity to challenge different political forces to Pashinyan’s otherwise democratized regime. Second, the current administration, which has been in power for less than three years, still does not have enough control over administrative resources to undermine the forthcoming elections in favor of re-election. This second point is especially important because in almost every election in Armenia over the past 25 years, incumbent presidents have managed to use administrative resources to secure the victory of themselves and their allies, thus discouraging smaller parties from running.
As most of the parties have already announced their election platform, it is clear that the main issues of the June snap elections are national security and the future of Armenia’s negotiations with Azerbaijan, especially the border demarcation talks between the two countries. In recent months, as: borderline tension Armenia’s “Azerbaijan” grew, the issue of border security began to prevail in the political and public discourse in Armenia.
As national security became a major concern for many Armenians, support for Kocharyan and his bloc increased in public opinion polls. This is mainly due to the fact that the former president is projecting himself as a more experienced statesman, which is combined with Pashinyan’s lack of experience in both foreign policy and national security. The fact that Kocharyan has always presented himself as a “leader of the war period.” He was the leader of the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic in the 1990s, he used those credentials in his campaign, he made his’s alliance obvious. An election for the majority of disoriented voters և for those who consider the national security of the country a priority.
That said, it should be noted that Kocharyan has been carrying a lot of baggage since his tenure as President of Armenia (1998-2008). For example, he conveniently omits from his election campaign the fact that during his presidency he did not take any initiatives to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict peacefully, although he had the opportunity to do so.
Moreover, most importantly, many in Armenia still hold Kocharyan responsible for the police use of deadly force to disperse protesters after the 2008 presidential election. It was during these protests that Pashinyan himself became active as a member of the opposition, and was soon imprisoned. After becoming prime minister, Pashinyan ordered that Kocharyan be held accountable for the March 2008 violence that killed two police officers and eight protesters.
Finally, many people think that the role, if any, Russia will play in the upcoming elections. All indications are that Moscow is in no hurry to support either Pashinyan or Kocharyan. By establishing shoes on the ground in Nagorno-Karabakh, in the person of Russian peacekeepers, Russia has become the de facto guarantor of security not only in the region, but also in Armenia. Moreover, keeping the Russian-occupied Prime Minister of Armenia with Russia, as well as close ties with Kocharyan and Moscow, make the election results ineffective for Armenia’s interest in Russia.
The above-mentioned factors raise the possibility that the forthcoming elections will be more related to the personal rivalry between Pashinyan and Kocharyan than to determine the path that Armenia will take in the post-war era.
In addition, many citizens are beginning to believe that on June 20 they will make a choice between national security and “protection of democracy.” Indeed, some observers argue that the difference between the two main political forces is that one side is democratic (Pashinyan) and the other anti-democratic (Kocharyan).
But the reality is that no matter who wins this election, democracy will be the biggest loser, and democratic reforms will be limited to Armenia. Continuing to argue that democracy and security are incompatible, mutually exclusive, could lead to Armenia losing on both fronts.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Al Jazeera.