Fri, 06 Aug 2021

Armenia's Pashinyan wins reelection in landslide

Eurasianet
21 Jun 2021, 16:49 GMT+10

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has won reelection in a landslide, gaining a renewed mandate despite leading the country to a disastrous defeat in last year's war with Azerbaijan.

With nearly 96 percent of the votes counted, Pashinyan's Civil Contract party had gotten 54 percent of the vote in the June 20 election. The "Armenia" alliance led by former president Robert Kocharyan was a distant second at just under 21 percent.

According to an analysis of the results by elections expert Harout Manougian, Civil Contract was slated to get 71 seats in parliament, Armenia 29, and the I Have Honor bloc seven seats. That would allow Civil Contract to maintain the decisive two-thirds majority it currently enjoys in parliament (along with other partners in a bloc called My Step, though that bloc is being disbanded for the next parliament).

The result was a far more decisive win than any public polls had predicted, though it did track with Civil Contract's own internal projections. Pashinyan was on track to win in every region of the country, even the far southern district of Syunik, where Pashinyan was thought to be especially vulnerable due to security concerns that have proliferated there.

Even in Shurnukh, the newly divided Syunik village that has exemplified that instability with part of it falling under control of Azerbaijan as a result of the war, Pashinyan won 51-40 over Kocharyan.

Pashinyan announced a victory rally for the evening of June 21 in Yerevan, where he promised a "solemn ceremony of handing over the steel mandate to the newly elected Prime Minister." That was a reference to a campaign trope in which Pashinyan, who came to power in 2018 protests that became known as the "Velvet Revolution," said he would be taking a harder line in a new administration. He called on voters to "replace our velvet mandate with a steel one."

But the victory was likely less a strong mandate for Pashinyan than a repudiation of his would-be replacements, dominated by figures from the widely hated former regime. Ahead of the vote Kocharyan emerged as Pashinyan's strongest challenger, as his air of competence contrasted favorably with the prime minister's erratic behavior and perceived incompetence dealing with the country's many post-war challenges. But the former president remained deeply unpopular among Armenians who remembered his corrupt and authoritarian rule from 1998-2008.

For many in heavily polarized Armenia, the vote represented less a choice of their candidate than a rejection of the one they feared more.

"I voted for Pashinyan even though I have no hopes for him. I just don't want Kocharyan to come back," said 30-something Maria Yegiazaryan, as she voted at a polling station on the outskirts of Yerevan. "I was so nervous to not damage my ballot paper when I put it inside the envelope, it was like I was taking a big exam back in university," she told Eurasianet.

"Pashinyan isn't the one that we need, but the other one is a step backwards," said another voter, 60-something Samvel Poghosyan, who cast his ballot at the House of Culture in the village of Oshakan in Aragatsotn province.

Despite the high stakes of these elections, turnout was only 49 percent, virtually the same as it was in the last parliamentary elections when the outcome was a foregone conclusion.

The Armenia alliance reported a large number of violations in favor of Civil Contract, and said they did not accept the results. The big numbers for Pashinyan contradict "the results of polls, including international polls, as well as common sense," the alliance said in a statement issued to local media as results came in. They did not give further indications about their next steps.

Many Pashinyan critics appeared unwilling to go public with their vote.

"Pashinyan is a psychopath, incompetent, little man who gave 70 percent of our country away," said one 70-something in Yerevan, referring to the loss in the war of formerly Armenian-controlled territory in and around Nagorno-Karabakh. "He shouldn't be allowed to continue to breathe but you will see how many votes he will get." He asked not to be identified: "I don't want to give my name, because I voted for Kocharyan."

"People don't trust the current government, our borders aren't secure," said Liliana Grigoryan, a 60-something Russian teacher in Oshakan who declined to say who she voted for. "We came to vote but we don't know if it will get any better."

An election monitoring mission from the OSCE was scheduled to give its preliminary assessment of the vote on June 21.

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