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Armenia. Operation “successor”

Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan (right) and Defense Minister Vigen Sargsyan. Photo: president.am

Parliament of Armenia of the sixth convocation will convene on April 27 – this time as a source for government formation, since the country is shifting from the semi-presidential to parliamentary system of government.

By the end of his term in 2018, President Serzh Sargsyan will retain the right to appoint national security ministers, adopt staff-related decisions in the government. There is about a year before the country will finally shift to the parliamentary democracy.

In 2018, Sargsyan will be replaced by a “nominal” president to be elected by the parliament. Prime minister will be on the top of the power hierarchy. Under the constitutional amendments approved in December 2015, the prime minister will be “defining the major course of the (foreign and domestic) policy,” heading the Security Council (Article 152 of the basic law) and implementing powers of the Supreme Commander in war time (Article 155). After the latest parliamentary elections, there is big enthusiasm inside the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) headed by the incumbent president.

The president’s order to ensure at least 55% of seats in the new parliament (EADaily reported its readers about it yet a week before the elections of April 2) is fulfilled at full. 58 out of 105 seats in the parliament, which is exactly 55% of total, goes to RPA. The remaining are just details, including potential coalition with ARF Dashnaktsutyun Party that received 7 seats.

There are another two issues that are much more important for the Republicans now. The first is to find an optimal configuration inside the party with prospects for 2018. It may seem that they have no problems here. Karen Karapetyan will retain the post of the prime minister. Considering the previous actions of the authorities, he will be determining the domestic and foreign policy of the Caucasian country. Yet, things are not that easy. Preparations for staff reshuffles are taking shape inside the officialdom that is not “customized” for Karen Karapetyan premiership in 2018.

The second important issue on the domestic policy agenda of Armenia originates mostly from the first one. They started openly using the word “successor” and the current prime minister is by far not the only candidate for that post. The most influential group of President Sargsyan’s proxies has its own plans for that post.

This part of the bureaucratic elite is considered the “younger” generation of Armenian politicians and political strategists in power, though many of them are above forty. The president and RPA rely on them. Sargsyan still relies on the local “political” leverage, at least look at the results of the past “bought” elections (there was a large-scale, if not total, voter bribery). The Armenian oligarchy “swept” the elections and the “young guard” of the president’s administration is now trying to focus on “perspectives of 2018.”

The continuous presence of the big Armenian bourgeoisie in the parliament along with other evident and hidden features suggests that the parliament of the 6th convocation and the next ones will have a “ceremonial” role. The epicenter of political decision making will be in the Cabinet of Ministers and will be represented by the prime minister. The point of influence will shift from the presidential residence on Baghramyan Ave to the government building in the Republic Square.

There is an active flow of functionaries from the parliament to the government. The “face” of the ruling party has been refreshed, as “young promising” Republicans were recruited to the Republican Party List from the government to run for parliament. Now, there is an opposite tendency, as the “promising youth” is being “deployed” back to the government to fulfill specific tasks for the “perspective 2018.” Reportedly, two leading parliamentary functionaries from RPA were appointed as deputy ministers of defense. The president’s administration extremely needs “fresh people on the right positions.”

Vigen Sargsyan, the former head of the president’s administration who headed the defense ministry in the pre-election period will continue leading the Armenian “young guard.” He is an experienced administrator, an intellectual in power. He managed to pose as moderate “pro-Western” representative of the Armenian political elite having an absolute loyalty to Russia at the same time. Otherwise, he could not be appointed as defense minister.

Another potential “successor” is Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan. He yields to Vigen Sargsyan a little (the defense minister remains subordinate to the president-supreme commander until 2018), but he enjoys a higher approval rating among the Armenian public and has better “public and political resume.”

Karapetyan’s approval rating is high despite the extremely negative attitude of the people towards the regime. Vigen Sargsyan, in turn, has a powerful leverage, and an intensive work on the information field will increase his popularity to the necessary level. However, this will not determine Serzh Sargsyan’s choice of his “successor.”

Karapetyan could continue the “Karabakh traditions” at top power echelons in Armenia, since he is from the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic like Serzh Sargsyan and his predecessor Robert Kocharyan. The president and the prime minister had a previous experience of cooperation yet in the period when Sargsyan was just climbing on the top of the political hierarchy and Karapetyan was appointed to leading positions in the gas sector that has a strategic importance for Armenia. Besides, Karapetyan has established quite useful ties in Moscow where he occupied high positions at Gazprom (in 2011-2015).

Karapetyan was urgently “requested” from Moscow to save the disastrously low approval rating of the authorities prior to the parliamentary elections. His name is associated with certain improvement of the Republican Party’s image, system changes in the state government and some reforms, which was mentioned by the president last autumn. In short, Karapetyan brought certain optimism to RPA’s pre-election expectations. As compared to the odious Hovik Abrahamyan and his cabinet, Karapetyan looks a charismatic person and much more preferred by the people than his predecessor.

Nevertheless, the prime minister’s strong points may play against him in the future. The president has been shadowed by him recently, and it is hard to say if this happens by the plan developed and approved at Baghramyan 26 (the president’s residence). Meantime, in the current political reality in Armenia it is not customary to become a “lame duck.” This tradition was established by Sargsyan’s predecessor. So, Karapetyan’s activity can be deemed as “an independent game” and his reformist enthusiasm may bother the president at a moment with all the consequences it entails.

The president’s “young guard” believes that the prime minister has fulfilled the mission of political crisis manager and deserves to retain his post. However, RPA’s success would not become reality, but for separate “young people” in power and this moment is being actively promoted by some “promising” functionaries. Besides, the RPA list was headed by Vigen Sargsyan as Karapetyan did not meet local residence requirement.

It is hard to call democracy what is taking place in Armenia, as the list of the ruling party was headed by the defense minister. In a democratic country, the army shall be separated from political processes. Perhaps, the president intentionally went on such risk to ensure a counterbalance to the prime minister for the coming year when he is to choose between them.

It is hard to make forecasts now, but the president may choose Vigen Sargsyan, as the latter is well informed of the “Karabakh issue,” he was present at almost all high-level meetings of the president where the Karabakh settlement was discussed.

A conciliatory proposal is possible too. The powers can be divided between possible Prime Minister Vigen Sargsyan and Deputy Prime Minister Karapetyan on the “policy-economy” scheme, respectively. The prime minister will get freedom of foreign and domestic policy decisions as stipulated by Article 152 of the Constitution, while reformist Karapetyan will get the economic sector.

The president and his “young guard” will try to ensure such disposition in 2018.

Meantime, there is stiff competition inside the power. Since there is no efficient opposition, the functionaries have to fight for their positions. This may split the government system into groups. Will the president manage to settle the internal disputes by choosing “the right successor”? Rather not than yes. Ambitions of the “youth” much exceed their abilities, which will just “spice” the future processes.

Vyacheslav Mikhaylov for EADaily

Permalink: eadaily.com/en/news/2017/04/17/armenia-operation-successor
Published on April 17th, 2017 06:28 PM
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