Hello, and welcome to the Armenian News Network, Groong, Week in Review. This Week we’re going to talk about the following major topics:
● Kocharyan’s Prosecutors Won’t Go Away
● Snap Electoral Reforms
● New Gallup poll
● What’s Going on in Ukraine?
To talk about these issues, we have with us:
Asbed Kotchikian, who is an Associate Professor of political science and international relations at the American University of Armenia.
Emil Sanamyan, a senior research fellow at USC’s Institute of Armenian Studies specializing in politics in the Caucasus, with a special focus on Azerbaijan.
Today is Easter Sunday. For those of our observant listeners, we wish you a very Happy Easter.
Քրիստոս Յարեաւ ի մեռելոց: Օրհնեալ է Յարութիւնն Քրիստոսի:
The previous week, as we already discussed on our podcast last weekend, the Constitutional Court decided that Article 300.1 of the Armenian law conflicted with Articles 78 and 79 of the Armenian constitution. Article 300.1 did not exist at the time, and during a period when President Robert Kocharyan is alleged to have violated it; also, when the law was adopted during the term of following president Serge Sargsyan, it explicitly said that the law did not apply retroactively.
Yet this past week, the prosecutors appealed to the court to not drop the case against Pres. Kocharyan, and to continue with the charges against him.
What is the history of Article 300.1, how it applies, or doesn’t apply to the case against Robert Kocharyan? Where is this case going from here?
On April 1st, in an emergency session, the Armenian parliament passed a bill enacting significant electoral reforms, which will be in effect for the early elections planned on June 20th. It was a party line vote, with the Ruling Block voting for it, Bright Armenia voting against, and Prosperous Armenia not participating in the vote.
The main change is that until now Armenians voted for political parties and blocs (alliances), as well as individuals as parliamentarians. After the reform, they will vote only for political parties and alliances, and those that clear the legal thresholds for representation in the parliament will get seats proportional to their percentage of the vote.
What are the main changes in this reform, and what do they mean to the voters? What difference will it make for them? Why did Prime Minister Pashinyan want to make these changes now, before the snap elections? Are there winners and are there losers to these reforms?
● Note that although LHK voted against the reform, it was based on technical reasons: because they felt that the timing - before the snap elections - was wrong. In fact, LHK leader Edmon Marukyan declared that as of the passing of the bill, he considers the legitimacy of the upcoming elections to be in doubt. However, in general Marukyan had been an advocate of the 100% party/proportional method of parliamentary elections.
● BHK abstained from voting, because they did not want to share responsibility for this bill at this time. However, they did not oppose it, and in general BHK leader Gagik Tsarukyan has not been opposed to 100% party/proportional parliamentary elections.
● These changes normally get sent to the Venice Commission for consultation. It seems Armenia did send a request to the commission, but the version of the proposal sent to Venice and the one finally approved are different.
This week, MPG released the results of a new poll, conducted very recently (between March 26 and 29. As with many other polls, this one was done over telephone and they talked to around 800 people across Armenia and the error margin is listed as +- 3.5%. Also keep in mind that MPG doesn’t list the non-response rate, which is very important for polls like this.
Respondents were asked to rate public figures on a scale of 1-5. As with previous polls, we see the Human Rights Defender, Arman Tatoyan, leading the charts. This is after the recent spat that the HR defender had with the executive government on multiple fronts, including on funding for the office of the HR defender.
● HR Defender - Arman Tatoyan - 3.7
● Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan - 2.7
● President, Armen Sarkissian - 2.4
● Former President, Robert Kocharyan - 2.1
● Prosperous Armenia leader, Gagik Tsarukyan - 2.1
● Bright Armenia leader, Edmon Marukyan - 1.9
● Former President, Serzh Sargsyan - 1.6
● ARF representative, Ishkhan Saghatelyan - 1.5
● HSM leader, Vazgen Manukyan - 1.5
● Hayrenik Party leader, Arthur Vanetsyan - 1.4
Any surprises in these results?
In a further question, respondents were asked if they would trust the results of the polls if they were conducted under the stewardship of Nikol Pashinyan’s government. There seems to be a lot of polarization to this response, with the aggregated positives and aggregated negatives weighing in at an approximate 43 to 44% each, and around 12% undecided.
● Definitely Yes - 35.5%
● Likely Yes - 9.0%
● Likely No - 13.4%
● Definitely No - 29.7%
● Difficult to Answer - 12.5%
This seems to support the fear that the potential election on June 20 will continue to keep the Armenian society polarized, regardless of which way it goes.
On another question, they asked respondents if they were preparing to participate in the elections. Only 41.2% said “definitely yes”, but previous poll results have shown that come election day even this number dwindles down.
● Definitely will participate - 41.2%
● Will likely participate - 10.7%
● Likely won’t participate - 15.0%
● Definitely won’t participate - 15.9%
● Difficult to answer - 17.2%
Assuming that we get elections, what is the strategy for the opposition? Some in the opposition have urged a boycott of the poll as the only principled stance since any other choice would risk giving Pashinyan legitimacy, even if My Step is unable to secure an absolute majority.
Let’s look at another question asked: If elections were held the following Sunday, which political power would the respondents vote for?
Now, there’s still a lot that may take place between now and June 20, including the elections not happening at all (since it is still not official), but the results indicate that Nikol Pashinyan and his My Step coalition still have a wide lead over others (although that lead has shrunk since February).
● My Step alliance - 31,7%
● Robert Kocharyan - 5,9%
● Prosperous Armenia party - 4,4%
● Bright Armenia party - 2,7%
● Republican Party of Armenia - 2,4%
● Armenian Revolutionary Federation - 2,1%
● Homeland Salvation Movement/Vazgen Manukyan - 1,0%
● Sasna Tsrer Party - 0,5%
● Homeland Party - 0,4%
● Republic Party - 0,4%
● Citizen’s Decision party «Քաղաքացու որոշում» - 0,1%
● None - 3,9%
● Other - 24,6%
● Difficult to Answer - 20,0%
Around 49% of the respondents said they’d vote for none of the above or refused to answer. What does that tell us about the reliability of these numbers? Can Pashinyan take these to the bank?
Ukraine is in the news recently as both Kiev and Moscow have escalated their belligerent rhetoric. Since 2014 Ukraine has been engaged in a territorial conflict with Russia and Russian-supported military units over Crimea, Donbass, and Lugansk. There is an uneasy truce that is in place currently and the situation is monitored by the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (the SMM). Any major conflict involving Russia may well have serious repercussions for the surrounding region and there’s worry that Azerbaijan and Turkey may exploit any distraction on the part of Russia to renew military actions against Armenia.
Emil gives an overview of what the rising conflict is about.
NATO and Western countries have shown public support for Ukraine. The head of US European Command has raised the American military’s watch level from “possible crisis” to “potential imminent crisis” (the highest level). Zelensky had a telephone conversation with Biden earlier in the week and on April 9, Zelensky is going on an official visit to Turkey next week.
How likely are we to see a renewed hot war in Ukraine?
March 31 was the deadline for the extension of the mandate for the OSCE SMM in Ukraine. The OSCE works on the basis of consensus and Armenia has 2 members as part of the OSCE mission. There was a lot of trepidation as there seemed to be a lack of agreement in extending the mission and apparently, they arrived upon an agreement at the 11th hour.
Armenia was the last-minute hold-out in the negotiations. What were the reasons for this? Can we talk about what Armenia’s objections were and potentially any trade-offs that may have taken place to resolve the issue?
That concludes our program for This Week in Review episode. We hope it has helped your understanding of some of the issues from the previous week. We look forward to your feedback, and your suggestions for issues to cover in greater depth. Contact us on our website, at groong.org, or on our Facebook Page “ANN - Groong”, or in our Facebook Group “Groong - Armenian News Network”.
Special thanks to Laura Osborn for providing the music for our podcast. On behalf of everyone in this episode, we wish you a good week. Don’t forget to subscribe to our channels, Like our pages and follow us on social media. Thanks for listening and we’ll talk to you next week.
Armenia, Nikol Pashinyan, Electoral Reform, Robert Kocharyan, Article 300.1, Early Elections, Snap Elections, Yerevan, My Step, Edmon Marukyan, Gagik Tsarukyan, Constitutional Court, Crimea, Donbas, Lugansk, Proportional Representation,
Additional: Emil Sanamyan, Asbed Kotchikian, Gallup Poll, June 20, OSCE, OSCE SMM, Special Monitoring Mission, Ukraine,