Armenia turmoil: end in sight?

Yerevan (AFP) –


Armenian opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan on Wednesday called an end to a huge wave of protests and said all parties would support his bid to run for prime minister again next week.

Armenia's parliament is to hold an extraordinary session next Tuesday in a new attempt to elect a prime minister, who holds the country's top job under a parliamentary system of government.

But analysts said the latest development did not mark an end to Armenia's most serious political crisis in years.

Events could unfold according to three possible scenarios.

- Pashinyan gets elected PM -

This now appears to be the most plausible scenario.

The hugely popular protest leader Pashinyan was on Tuesday eight votes short of getting elected prime minister after the ruling Republican Party -- which has a majority in the 105-seat legislature -- rejected his bid.

"That was the first round of a showdown between Nikol and the Republicans in which both sides flexed their muscles," said political analyst Vigen Hakobyan.

Relying on massive popular support, Pashinyan, 42, piled pressure on the ruling party through an unprecedented campaign of civil disobedience, while the Republican Party demonstrated its tight control of the legislature.

After Republicans indicated on Wednesday they would support Pashinyan's bid this time around in an apparent effort to retain their parliamentary majority he called an end to protests.

But many observers are sceptical they are genuinely ready to back the opposition leader after the Republicans promised not to stand in the way of Pashinyan's candidacy yet withheld their support during Tuesday's vote.

Even if Pashinyan is elected prime minister the crisis will not end because the ruling party will sabotage his initiatives in parliament.

"We are in for difficult times. The crisis is not over," said analyst Arman Boshyan.

- Ruling party elects own PM -

The ruling party said it would not nominate its own candidate, just like it said last time before sabotaging Pashinyan's bid.

In principle, the Republicans could easily withdraw support for Pashinyan and elect their own candidate.

But given the party's increasing unpopularity with everyday Armenians the move would only deepen the crisis, leading to unpredictable political and economic consequences.

Analysts say the turmoil is quickly eroding the party's capacity to govern the country as the elites are increasingly losing both legitimacy and control over state institutions.

"Society no longer wants to obey these authorities," said analyst Stepan Safaryan, adding many state employees have joined the protest movement.

After "electing their own candidate, they could take a reckless step and introduce an emergency situation," Safaryan added.

Critics accuse the government of corruption and failure to tackle widespread poverty in the tiny South Caucasus nation of 2.9 million people.

- Dissolution of parliament -

If lawmakers fail to elect a prime minister for a second time next week, the legislature will be dissolved and early elections called.

Early parliamentary polls must be held no sooner than 30 days and no later than 45 days after the chamber is dissolved.

Such a development would be the least desired option for the authorities as the Republican Party may lose its majority or fail to make it into parliament at all.

"I think they will do everything to avoid this," said Safaryan.

"They understand that there's no way they will get into parliament during snap elections," added analyst Manvel Sargsyan.

Some observers said that the Republicans might opt for a wait-and-see approach hoping that popular protests will fade away in the run-up to new elections, effectively stripping Pashinyan of his main political weapon.

If the government resorts to extreme measures and introduces a state of emergency, early elections will not be held, according to the constitution.