Report from Yerevan

By Karen Mkrtchyan, Yerevan, 10 December 2020
The situation in Armenia is back to what it used to be. The social fabric is torn. Sectarianism has raised its head and institutions lack authority. The Hayastantsi-Karabaghtsi conflict is out in the open again. Pashinyan’s failure has been a huge blow to everyone–young and old–who had begun seeing a future for themselves here. The coming 20 years will either shape Armenia into a new, modern democracy or lead to gradual destruction.
Unfortunately, Pashinyan failed sooner than critics had predicted. Now, it is difficult to persuade people to be positive. Migration has once again become a viable option. Some of our martyrs were highly-educated and were going to shape Armenia’s future. Entrepreneurship was taking shape, thanks to them. Now, with many of them killed and the survivors dejected, we have no idea what the future will be. The threat to our borders, Syunik in particular, is the most worrying. Geopolitical developments are also highly concerning.
More than a month since Pashinyan broke the news of our defeat so many things still remain unknown. With so much secrecy surrounding the deal, we don’t know what Azerbaijan will lay claims to next. The government has denied that villages from Tavush will be handed over to the enemy, but if we are returning to the borders as drawn during the USSR era, some villages in Tavush will be claimed by the Azeris. There are villages in Ararat region as well that we claimed from Nakhichevan during the first Artsakh war. We have no guarantee that those will not be returned. Another mystery is the chartered flight that took off from Yerevan for Baku two days ago. Some sources say it had taken Azeri prisoners to bring Armenians back, but that too hasn’t been verified.
With so much going on, we are stuck between the impotence of the government wanting to continue holding on to power and the threat of the former regime wanting to storm back, using Vazgen Manukyan as a front. A disreputable politician, it’s shocking that some see him as the next prime minister.
What options are there? Everything has to transpire in the National Assembly.
1. Impeachment: Should Pashinyan refuse to resign, MPs can force him to do so through impeachment. If he is impeached, he would have no choice but to leave. His government will be automatically replaced by a new cabinet placed by the next PM who will be elected at the time of impeachment. The bill introduced to impeach Pashinyan would already have his successor decided. With one vote he will be booted and with another the new PM will be elected. The seat will not remain vacant even for an hour. This will ensure continuity.
However, parliament at this stage is unlikely to initiate an impeachment process unless MPs are certain it will pass. According to the new impeachment law, parliament can’t attempt to impeach a PM more than once in a year. This means should the opposition initiate impeachment and fail to pass it, it will have to wait a year before it can attempt to re-impeach. As it stands, 66 MPs are needed to pass an impeachment. The opposition is short of that. So, unless they are sure more MPs will leave the ruling party or will support impeachment, they will not go down that road. This will become a viable option should the ruling party feel Pashinyan is drowning them all.
2. Pashinyan’s voluntary resignation: This is second option, of course, . Should Pashinyan agree to step down, the PM’s seat will remain vacant and parliament will have to vote for a new PM either from amongst its ranks or someone nominated for the post.
Option A: Someone from the ruling party takes over. In this scenario, the ruling party can decide to elect a replacement for Pashinyan to put together the next government. While this is possible, since the ruling party enjoys a parliamentary majority, recent events have shown it won’t be easy. Other than Pashinyan no other leader commands support and respect in the parliament. Although Papikyan and Mirzoyan seem to be likely replacements, internal bickering, which has become even more evident after the war, makes it improbable that anyone can lead the team. Had Pashinyan a natural successor,  My Step would have voted him or her in Pashinyan’s stead by now. Their silent tolerance of Pashinyan shows their desperation for a replacement.
Option B: Pashinyan steps down and a member of the opposition is elected. In this scenario, even if the ruling My Step faction fails to nominate a candidate, they will have to elect a candidate from the opposition. They will be met with two choices: Vazgen Manukyan, supported in the Parliament by Prosperous Armenia, and Edmon Marukyan, proposed and supported by the Bright Armenia party.
Each of these candidates will need the votes of the ruling party to be elected. Edmon Marukyan has a better chance than Manukyan. Considering the reputation of the people who are supporting Manukyan, it is unlikely that the ruling party will risk voting for him. A Manukyan government means a government formed by the Republicans, Dashnaks, Kocharyan, Vanetsyan, Hrant Bagratyan, Tsarukyan and a host of neo-Republican parties in disguise. One can’t be adventurous enough to think My Step will risk allowing the former regime get anywhere close to power. Guess who will be the first victims of their revenge should Manukyan get power? With all the court cases and arrests in the past two years, vendetta is very likely.
This leaves them with the other option–Marukyan. While Marukyan has been critical of the government, they, My Step MPs at least know there is no threat to their lives or their freedoms. They would rather have Marukyan form government than not. Should this happen, even Prosperous Armenia will abandon the other 16 and join in supporting Marukyan who enjoys cordial relations with them. His ability to criticize without getting too personal might make him an acceptable PM even for those 16 parties backing Manukyan who would rather work with him in an interim government than lead a futile street movement.
3. Snap Elections: Per this scenario, the PM resigns and parliament makes two attempts to elect a new PM, failing which snap elections would be declared. This is the most unlikely option as none of the parliamentary forces want an election at this stage. The country is going through too much and can’t afford to hold elections fresh out of war. Another factor is the realisation that most of the MPs stand no chance of ever being elected. They would prefer to elect someone PM and enjoy the perks of being parliamentarians than risk dispersing the parliament and become jobless, losing all the benefits in the process.
In all scenarios, the role of parliament is paramount. The street agitations won’t reach a point to force Pashinyan resign especially when those organizing them enjoy no sympathy among the furious masses. Nobody trusts the former regime. This is why despite the losses, the streets aren’t flooded with people the way they otherwise would have been. Pashinyan will eventually leave but through pressure from his team. It is to influence the MPs of the ruling party that people should work to impress upon rather than Pashinyan.
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