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Parliamentary elections in Armenia: ruling party dictates the agenda

There are just six months left before the next parliamentary elections in Armenia, but the key actors are already known. The ruling party enjoys full control over local politics, with opposition forces having no serious chances for consolidation. President Serzh Sargsyan’s Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) is strong enough to impose its will on the others and is free to choose partners and reshuffle the cabinet whenever it needs.

In contrast, the opposition is weak and disorganized and is unable to convert its key trumps - the social-economic crisis and the people’s displeasure – into a victory.

The Republicans’ plans for Apr 2017 became clear when they formed a coalition with the oldest Armenian party, Dashnaktsutyun.

The key goal of the coalition was to promote constitutional reforms and to make Armenia a parliamentary republic. In exchange for their support, the Dashnaks were given three ministerial offices.

The Republicans do need a partner today – otherwise, they will hardly get more than 45% of the votes during the Apr elections. Their actual rating is even lower. But in Armenia the results of elections have nothing to do with the actual ratings of the winners.

The victories of United Russia and Georgian Dream in the last elections in Russia and Georgia were really impressive. The RPA can only dream of such results. The switch to the proportional election system made it no longer possible for them to get seats in single-mandate districts.

Well aware that they will not be able to win alone, the Republicans were forced to look for a new coalition partner and to push constitutional reforms.

The goal of those reforms was to gain majority in the parliament and to control the cabinet. But in order to be able to achieve it, the Republicans needed a partner.

Point 3 of article 89 of the new Armenian constitution says that there can be no runoff if the leader manages to form a coalition majority. So, Dashnaktsutyun’s 5% may be enough for the Republicans to reproduce their regime. And in exchange the Dashnaks will get more ministerial offices.

The forthcoming parliamentary elections are crucial for the Republicans as they will test the effectiveness for their constitutional reforms. Throughout their stay in power, the Republicans were blamed for lots of election-related sins and political mistakes. But for all that, they remain the most pragmatic and mobile political force in Armenia.

Their pragmatism has prompted them that they will not be able to improve their rating by next April. So, they decided to change the system. But they are not going to change their staff. In other words, they are going to redistribute duties among the same people. In the new system the president will be weaker but the “leadership is the key” principle will stay firm.

The leader of the RPA, President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan has no constitutional right to run for the third term. He has already said that he will not seek high posts in parliamentary Armenia. But he is not going to resign as the RPA leader. As his predecessor, Robert Kocharyan, once said, the RPA has imposed a single-party regime in Armenia. So, today the post of the RPA’s leader is even more important that posts of the president, prime minister and parliamentary speaker.

Irrespective of their rating, the Republicans are confident of their dominance. But their pragmatism is urging them to take care of it. Even before the constitutional reforms, one of their key authors, the head of the government’s staff David Harutyunyan noted that under proportional system, ruling parties never polled more than 40% of the votes, while under single-mandate system, they often enjoyed as much as 80%.

The new constitution stipulates exclusively proportional elections, so, the Republicans need a partner to secure stable majority in the parliament.

To be fair, we would like to clarify Harutyunyan’s words. In 2012, the RPA polled just 44.78% in proportional districts. Now, five years later, the party can hardly hope for more. But 45% is still their minimum program. Only 45% plus the 5% to be polled by their “junior partners,” the Dashnaks, can give them majority in the parliament.

But there are Republicans who will not be satisfied with such a modest percentage and need “a raving success” – a result that could be compared to the achievements of their colleagues in Russia and Georgia.

The ruling regime in Armenia is turning into a team. But it still needs strong leaders. Over the last years, the people’s displeasure has grown into open criticism and the Republicans have no remedy against it. Their decision to replace odious Hovik Abrahamyan with reformer Karen Karapetyan was a forced measure and now they will do their best to make Karapetyan and his team part of their system.

They have made it clear for all politicians in Armenia that if they want to get high offices in the country they should have a strong party behind. So, we can hardly expect any bright reformer to appear in the Armenian politics soon.

During their next congress, on Nov 26, the Republicans will try to make Karapetyan a Republican. In order to win his heart, they approved his cabinet’s program on Oct 17.

The program is meant for six months but after the parliamentary elections, it may well be turned into a long-term strategy.

Vyacheslav Mikhaylov, specially for EADaily

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