Velvet Revolutionary Seeks to Tighten Grip on Power in Elections

(Bloomberg) -- Armenia’s acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan will seek on Sunday to complete the ‘Velvet Revolution’ that swept him to power, when the Caucasus country holds parliamentary elections that may wipe out the former ruling Republican party.

Opinion polls show at least two-thirds of voters say they’ll back Pashinyan’s My Step alliance in the snap elections being contested by 11 parties and blocs. The same surveys also show the Republicans may win less than 2 percent support, potentially leaving the party that ruled Armenia for nearly two decades without any lawmakers. Parties need at least 5 percent of votes to enter the parliament.

If Sunday’s results reflect the polls, Pashinyan will cement his grip on power after he led the peaceful revolution that forced former Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan to resign in April following weeks of street protests. While popular support swept Pashinyan to the premiership in May, the Republicans controlled parliament after taking 58 of 101 seats in 2017 elections. Pashinyan, whose party had just nine seats, resigned as premier in October to force lawmakers to call new elections under a constitutional rule.

“Once in control of the parliament, the revolutionaries will be under more public pressure to deliver concrete results in the fight against corruption, and deal more effectively with social injustice,” said Lilit Gevorgyan, a senior economist at IHS Markit in London. “But the biggest challenge is the public’s high expectations and low patience.”

My Step has 69 percent support, according to a survey of 1,100 people conducted Dec. 1-4 by the Marketing Professional Group LLC, which had a margin of error no greater than three percentage points. Its closest rival is the Prosperous Armenia party led by businessman and former world champion arm-wrestler Gagik Tsarukyan, with nearly 6 percent.

Ex-President’s Arrest

A court in the capital, Yerevan, on Friday ordered the re-arrest of former President Robert Kocharyan. He’s facing prosecution over his decision to order police and troops to disperse opposition protests at the end of his presidency in 2008, resulting in violence that killed 10 people. Pashinyan, who helped lead the protests, went into hiding and was later jailed.

Velvet Revolutionary Seeks to Tighten Grip on Power in Elections

Kocharyan, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, attacked the “revolutionary romanticism” of Armenia’s new authorities in an interview in October, in which he also alleged the prosecution was being driven by Pashinyan’s “personal hatred” of him. He was detained initially in July and later released on appeal.

The Kremlin is watching events closely in the Caucasus nation of 3 million people that hosts a vital Russian military base and is engaged in a thirty-year conflict with neighboring Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Kocharyan’s arrest and those of other senior former officials prompted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to complain to the new Armenian authorities in July.

Pashinyan’s supporters say the arrests are a long overdue reckoning for a regime in which officials and well-connected businessmen grew rich on kickbacks and corrupt monopolies while a third of Armenia’s people lived in poverty.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.