Politics is like a mosaic and you will not understand a lot while looking at it very closely, you should distance yourself a bit to get the whole picture. Meaning both – physically and timewise. The first fragments of today’s political mosaic started to visualize yet in 2015, during the constitutional amendments, when the ruling party, presenting their own vision of constitutional amendments, came up with a rather ambitious initiative of transforming Armenia into a parliamentary state.
And what implies parliamentarism? It implies a competitive political environment and diversity, developed party system and freedom for its development, true mechanisms of checks and balances, real tools of guaranteed parliamentary oversight for the opposition, elimination of political monopoly, eradication of the principle “all to the winner, none to the looser” and so on. In principle, this includes a significant part of the democracy toolkit. Whether the system is parliamentary or presidential, certain minimal conditions must be in place to make it function. And one of those minimal conditions is the existence of political alternative in the country, which turns politics into an environment of multilateral relations rather than of the ruler’s monologue.
Essentially, it was with the purpose of offering a political alternative, that in 2016, Bright Armenia, Republic and Civic Contract parties established the basis for the “Way Out” [Yelq] Coalition, jointly participating in the parliamentary elections of 2017. We have carried out a door-to-door campaign, entering each house and moving from one community to another, introducing our vision of the country’s development from the young to the elderly and informed the citizens of the Republic of Armenia that they had an exceptional chance through those elections to get rid of the acting government, i.e. the ruling Republican Party led by Serzh Sargsyan. We have explained in detail what mechanisms were implemented to protect the votes of citizens and make sure they reach the purpose. We have ensured that we take the responsibility to protect each vote cast for our Coalition. We have showed the path through which the political majority of the “Way Out” Coalition could be formed within the Armenian Parliament. In that particular case the “Way Out” Coalition and not the Republican Party could decide who is going to be the number one official of Armenia, i.e. the Prime Minister, according to the new constitution. During the mentioned campaign we have voiced a number of times that it was the last chance of our citizens to change the government in the country until 2022, since there will no longer be presidential elections in Armenia on a national level and that it was the last electoral campaign for the upcoming 5 years.
Whatsoever, elections took place and the following results were recorded:
770,441 votes or 49.12% to Republican Party,
428,836 votes or 27.32% to Tsarukyan Coalition,
122,065 votes or 7.77% to “Way Out” Coalition,
103,048 votes or 6.57% to Armenian Revolutionary Federation.
On April 4, 2017, two days after the election, the “Way Out” Coalition released a statement stating that mass cases of vote-buying and abuse of administrative resources took place. However, the Alliance also acknowledged the sad fact that those violations were committed by tens of thousands of citizens, in the atmosphere of public tolerance towards the phenomenon, which is a slow action bomb lying under the Armenian statehood. The first point of the Coalition’s statement said that the official results of the elections were generally formed as a result of the votes of citizens participating in the elections, and the “Way Out” Coalition succeeded in registering each vote cast in its favor. Summarizing the statement, the Coalition acknowledged that it considers itself the delegate of 122 thousand 49 citizens who voted for them and that the Coalition will act for the sake of freedom, security and welfare of every citizen of the Republic of Armenia, the Armenian people, the Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Artsakh. The logic behind the Coalition’s statement was that Armenian citizens, in contrast to the previous elections, had the opportunity to prevent the reproduction of Serzh Sargsyan and the Republican Party, had a guaranteed mechanism to keep their own votes, but they did not do so. As a result, the Coalition assumed a high responsibility of being the delegate of the voters who voted for them and therefore did launch an ineffective process of appealing without having documented evidence on such crucial violations or electoral frauds that would have become a solid basis for applying to the Constitutional Court.
Immediately after the National Assembly elections, the Coalition became involved in Yerevan City Council elections. On May 14, 2017, as a result of Yerevan City Council elections, the votes were distributed among the three participating powers in the following order:
240,034 votes or 71,25% to Republican Party,
70,730 votes or 21% to “Way Out” Coalition,
26,107 votes or 7,75% to “Yerkir Tsirani” Party.
After the elections, the “Way Out” Coalition acknowledged that it had a strong and stable support-base in the capital and the “Way Out” faction considered itself as the delegate of nearly 70,000 Yerevan residents voted for the Coalition. The Coalition announced that it declares the defeat of the atmosphere of apathy dominating among the citizens of Armenia as its strategic goal and will do everything to achieve this goal. Taking up the parliamentary work and assuming the role and responsibility of the parliamentary opposition, from the very beginning, the “Way Out” Coalition aimed at becoming a genuine alternative to the ruling party, to control the latter and to properly represent the voice of all citizens in the National Assembly who truly value the agenda of democratic changes in Armenia, through the skillful use of all parliamentary levers. This was our belief and the behavior so far. I am certain that it is impossible to solve new problems with old tools, to act in today’s fragile world with a rigid mentality. It is this new thinking and toolkit that was originally instilled into the basis of the “Way Out” Coalition: not to take the paths already trodden by former political forces, not to give into the temptation of short-term fame. As the well-known saying goes “it’s unwise to always do the same thing, and expect a new result every time, since it’s not possible to achieve different results doing the same steps…”
Over the years, the government has fed the society with the idea that there is no alternative to the ruling party and that they are only one capable of undertaking a difficult and responsible task of governance. This idea has become a manipulative tool by which the government has often deceived the public, eventually making many to ask the following question: if not them, then who? Thus, on one hand it is the failure of the state governance and being “the only one” on the other hand. Here is one of the greatest political paradoxes in today’s Armenia. But we have a solution to this paradox. That is why it is of prior importance to show the society that we have a real alternative, we have alternative tools for managing the state, a new political culture and a competitive team. Hence, from the very beginning the “Way Out” Coalition came up with various alternative initiatives in the National Assembly, nominating its own candidate to chair the National Assembly and presenting alternative programs and approaches. The Coalition has initiated the nomination of an alternative candidate for the President, in which we did not succeed due to the unwillingness of fellow MPs from other factions to join us. Many initiatives and alternative programs are under development, which should become factors of high importance in Armenia’s political agenda. On a daily basis, we keep our fingers on the pulse of political changes, and these days, as you know, the burning topic is the possible nomination of Serzh Sargsyan in the post of the Prime Minister and the methods and strategy of struggle against it, its political implication, and the unification or not around that process. For many, this may be a Deja-vu, but in any case, I think it is worth presenting our approaches regarding the topics under discussion and all that we believe in. Still months ago, the “Way Out” Coalition reached a consensus decision that the third term of Serzh Sargsyan’s office was unacceptable to us.
At the same time, in the light of this consensus, with political and legal logic we all understood that Serzh Sargsyan, together with its party, was reproduced back in April 2, 2017, so we must be honest with the citizens of Armenia and not use “reproduction” in our rhetoric but “the third term” expression instead. Yes, we are confident, that by going for the third term, Serzh Sargsyan breaks the promise he has made before. Thus, the entire myth of constitutional reforms is out of the question. Through the recently passed constitutional laws every effort was made to make sure that Armenia has an uncontrollable super-prime minister and zero parliamentary governance, in line with Eurasian traditions. I am deeply convinced that Armenia does not have the necessary resources to become a dictatorship; it is a pure adventurism. Therefore, all attempts by Serzh Sargsyan and RPA to make Armenia a dictatorship will fail. On the other hand, as a parliamentary power, remaining loyal to the practices we have adopted so far, we could have nominated an alternative candidate for the Prime Minister, present an alternative program, and to do this, it was necessary to have unity and consensus within the Coalition. We have had many occasions to state that we do not believe in the thesis circulated by our colleagues that people are able not to allow Serzh Sargsyan to become Prime Minister. This does not mean that we are against the people’s “not allowing”. We only proceed from the fact that just a year ago the people allowed Serzh Sargsyan to become a Prime Minister. In fact, only one thing can hold back Serzh Sargsyan from being a Prime Minister – the absence of desire to become a Prime Minister. With all other configurations, the game is lost before it has even started, from legal point of view, in terms of struggle of resources, and from the perspective of political science. As a result of a defeated game at this stage we will have to deal with citizens in extreme despair to whom it will be almost impossible to explain why the promised revolution was missed again.
On the other hand, it will be very difficult to tune people towards any electoral process in a village, a city, or national elections. Hence, we are honest with our colleagues and our citizens. In our political analyses, in calculating our resources, we have come to the conclusion that we can challenge Serzh Sargsyan in the Parliament, without the forming ungrounded expectations with people in the streets, and then explain why we could not achieve something in what we ourselves did not believe. Failed hopes deepen the mood of despair, which the “Way Out” Coalition promised to fight against. On the other hand, a completely logical question arises, what to do in this situation if Serzh Sargsyan is appointed Prime Minister by the support of the political majority and perhaps, also by the support of Tsarukyan bloc? In my opinion, at this stage, we have to take over the function of controlling the government and limiting its unlimited powers, which at this point is most feasible and realistic. We must propose to the authorities to ensure that the “Way Out” Coalition, as a parliamentary opposition, and widely trusted layers of the civil society, be given places in all control and independent structures established according to the existing and amended constitution, in bodies of carrying out checks and balances, which do not bear any executive authority. In particular, the government should yield to the post of chairmen of 2 standing committees of the National Assembly, the political right to appoint a future member of the Constitutional Court, the political right to appoint 2 of the 5 members of the Supreme Judicial Council, the political right to appoint the Human Rights Defender, the post of the Chairman of the Public Council, 2 out of the 7 members of the Central Electoral Commission and 2 out of 7 members of the National Commission on Television and Radio (NCTR), the right to appoint 3 of the 7 members of the Audit Chamber, the possibility to nominate 2 out of 8 members of the Board of the Central Bank, to enable the oppositional forces and widely trusted public institutes of civil society to appoint 3 out of 7 SCPEC members and 2 out of 5 PSRC members, as well as at least 3 out of 5 members of the Corruption Prevention Committee, indeed in case of passing all stages of competition and interviews. Systematic damage to Armenia in recent years can be reduced only through cooperation with the civil society and the opposition, as a result of forming checks and balances, there is no alternative to this and cannot be. At the same time, it should be noted that in the course of formation of the new parliament during this passing year, a number of anti-democratic events took place under the authority of the ruling party, which make the need for controlling the latter more vital. In particular, the parliamentary majority made a political decision to reduce the number of standing committees of the National Assembly by 1 making it 9. The reason for this was that the chair of the 10th standing committee had to be provided to the representative of the “Way Out” Coalition, hence, this decision was made to prevent such a development. The new Judicial Code was passed with violations, according to which a court penalty will be applied to advocates since 2019. Arthur Sargsyan, the “bread-bearer”, died in a penitentiary, having incurable illnesses inconsistent with imprisonment, and no one has been held accountable for that. Taxes and other mandatory payments have been raised, and the draft bill on ethics committees was rejected in the parliament for the use of violence against a pro-opposition MP.
According to the new law, the government sessions become closed, and journalists are not allowed to attend the Yerevan Council meetings. The Constitution is being violated, by creating the position of the First Vice Prime Minister, and the structure of the government becomes such that it is eventually out of the parliamentary oversight, turning into an immensely powerful vehicle with no control. According to human rights NGOs in Armenia, there are political prisoners in Armenia. I share this opinion and I believe that all public-political figures who are in prisons or are being prosecuted should immediately be released and criminal prosecution should be stopped. All the above-mentioned arguments and in-depth assessments of the political reality once again prove that Armenia has a continuous regress of democracy, which requires radical and systemic changes to stop it.
I am convinced that if the authorities continue to ignore the arguments, reject the civilized culture of political struggle, not to listen to the voice raised by me and other likeminded citizens, the voices of shooting will be heard more often inside the country, which will throw Armenia back for decades, deepening discouragement and undermining the foundations of the state.