BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
It’s been quite a full Armenian political week.
September 21 was the 27th anniversary of the Republic of Armenia’s re-independence.
September 23 saw the first post-Velvet Revolution election held in the Armenia. It was Yerevan’s municipal election, by all accounts run cleanly, with an 81 percent lopsided victory going to the “My Step” bloc and its mayoral candidate, Hayk Maroutyan.
September 25th marked Primer Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s entrance on the international stage with his speech at the U.N.’s annual opening hoopla that is attended by many, if not almost all, world leaders.
Independence has been written and remarked about at great length, so I’ll focus on the other two items.
My Step’s victory was unsurprising to most, though the scale of it is somewhat surprising. This is the political grouping built around Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. His rapid rise to power on the back of a popular, and populist, movement, coupled with the designed-to-grab-media-attention actions early on (arresting notable abusers of the preceding administrations and getting payment from some tax-cheats) have made him an immense hit with the populace. For the time being, anything he “touches” politically is likely to succeed. So this victory was Pashinyan’s, not Marutyan’s or My Step’s.
This cult of personality seems to pervade voters’ mindsets. Perhaps it’s a leftover from Soviet times. No one can easily forget the looming presence on omnipresent posters of whoever the leader of the day was. That’s much like Erdogan’s Turkey, Hussein’s Iraq, or any other dictator’s domain.
But this can be dangerous. If people are voting for a person, and trusting his good intentions and good will, we can easily have a situation that degenerates into petty tyranny. Even if it’s understandable under current circumstances, it is highly undesirable. We must work closely with Pashinyan to keep him on the right track. It might be instructive for him to think in terms of the 80 percent of parliament that the ARF had during the first republic. One of the prime ministers of that period, Hovhannes Kachaznoonee, who subsequently fell out with and was critical of the ARF, argued in his later writings that such overwhelming control was counterproductive since it produced insufficient challenges to the ARF’s governance, presumably resulting in less refined and perfected policy.
On this front, I already see some cause for concern. Pashinyan declared, before the election, that anyone one who wanted prompt dissolution of the current parliament and the earliest possible snap elections for a new parliament should vote for the My Step slate. But really, who did that? What percentage? No one’s going to poll voters to measure that, after the fact. Plus, it’s clear to everyone that people voted for Pashinyan, regardless of who the actual candidates were. Now he will assert that “the people” gave him a mandate to dissolve parliament immediately. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with dissolving parliament now. It probably could have been done with no ill effects even sooner. But the problem here is not the actions, but the process and mindset that are guiding them.
On the external front is Pashinyan’s U.N. speech. I read the text. It seems he delivered it in English, rather than Armenian. Why? Each country representing a nation has this once-a-year opportunity to speak to the world, why would a leader not do it in her/his native tongue. It’s odd. His remarks were on the mark regarding Artsakh and the warped logic of returning it to Azerbaijani control. Yet he made no mention of the Genocide, reparations, or territorial restitution – in this way, he may be following in the footsteps of his some-time mentor, Levon Ter Petrossian. He undercut himself by describing the odd political condition of having a parliament that is overwhelmingly composed of members not of his political grouping. But he did speak well on the topics of rooting out corruption and building a truly democratic state.
So we must be watchful and mindful that we do not miss this, our second, chance at building a real democratic republic and slip into yet another “polite” dictatorship as happened under the first president of the republic.