PGI INSIGHT: Armenia – Unrest to persist after Pashinyan loses PM vote
- Armenia has experienced high levels of anti-government civil unrest since former president Serzh Sargysan from the ruling Republican Party attempted to assume the prime minister’s office.
- Mass protests have continued amid the Republican Party’s refusal to hold negotiations with or appoint opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan as prime minister.
- The country’s political outlook remains uncertain and further spikes in unrest in reaction to political developments remain highly possible, with the potential for outbreaks of violence, should political tensions escalate further.
The political crisis in Armenia began on 11 April, when Serzh Sargysan, who had served as president between 2008 and 2018, reversed his previous position and announced he would seek to be nominated as prime minister. Sargysan’s appointment as prime minister by his ruling Republican Party six days later was widely interpreted by the opposition as a power grab, given that in 2015, most executive powers were transferred from the president to prime minister in a referendum where the country moved from a presidential to parliamentary system.
Following 10 consecutive days of unrest, Sargsyan resigned on 23 April and the government appointed Karen Karapetian as acting prime minister. However, unrest has continued since Sargysan’s resignation due to the failure of talks between Karapetian and the main leader of the opposition Nikol Pashinyan. Further escalating the political crisis, on 1 May, the Republican Party refused to support Pashinhyan’s candidacy to become prime minister. The move prompted the opposition leader to call for a general strike, which saw tens of thousands of people block key roads and government buildings on 2 May.
The unrest has consisted of anti-government sit-ins, marches and demonstrations in major cities across the country, including Yerevan, Gyumri and Vanadzor. Protests in the capital have seen near daily road blockades and traffic disruption across the city centre, as well as the arrest of more than 200 people by police. There have also been several instances of violence between security forces and protesters, and between demonstrators and opposition supporters, although no fatalities have been reported.
Armenia’s political outlook following parliament’s failure to nominate Pashinyan as prime minister remains uncertain. Parliament will hold a new vote on the prime minister on 8 May, but it remains unclear whether Pashinyan will be able to gain enough votes from members of the Republican party to become prime minister. If parliament fails to achieve consensus on a new prime minister, it will be dissolved and early elections will be held, with Karapetian serving as prime minister in the interim.
Unrest will continue in major cities, at least in the near term, as Pashinyan has called for a campaign of nationwide civil disobedience after parliament failed to name him prime minister. Yerevan, Gyumri and Vanadzor will remain focal points for protests, exposing businesses operating in those cities to travel disruption.
Pashinyan faces difficult and uncertain prospects in the next phase of his campaign against the government. Despite his popularity, he lacks experience in political office and has failed to articulate his position on key political issues, including the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The disparate opposition, comprising various political parties and young people, has united against the Republican Party, but it remains unclear whether Pashinyan will be able to prevent this coalition from fragmenting if the political crisis drags on.
Key flashpoints for future unrest include the next vote by parliament on the prime minister, with unrest likely to be heightened either by Pashinyan not being elected or the Republican Party reversing their previous position and nominating a candidate from their own party. Secondly, a move by the authorities to detain Pashinyan could heighten unrest – the politician was briefly detained overnight between 22-23 April for committing ‘socially dangerous acts’.
Lastly, a crackdown on future protests by security forces could serve to escalate unrest to levels seen in 2008, when Sargsyan’s election led to deadly clashes between security forces and opposition supporters in Yerevan’s Freedom Square in which at least eight people died. Although the government has avoided a severe crackdown to date, there have been sporadic incidents of violence that underscore the potential for more widespread clashes between protesters and security forces or government supporters.
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