After mounting a large-scale and ultimately effective campaign of civil disobedience, a movement of “people power” in Armenia, led by Nikol Pashinyan, a young member of parliament, appears to have delivered on multiple fronts. The embattled and unpopular prime minister, Serzh Sargsyan, was forced to step down on April 23. More importantly, the civil disobedience campaign also produced civic engagement at extra-ordinary levels, thereby opening a new chapter to Armenia’s statecraft.
While a great victory for the movement on the ground, the slim majority of the incumbent regime which Serzh Sargsyan represented, blocked Mr. Pashinyan from being elected as interim prime minister during the parliamentary elections on May 1. In an effort to regroup, the incumbent Republican party prolonged the crisis, pushing the people back into the streets. According to the constitution, next election will be held seven days after today’s vote.
The political sophistication of the people is evident both in terms of their disciplined approach to nonviolent strategies, but also their determination to pursue their goals through the existing constitutional order, no matter how flawed. They have already successfully registered their protest at an attempt at constitutional engineering, by repudiating the attempt of the embattled ex-president-turned-prime minister to secure a de facto third, and potentially indefinite, term in power.
The crisis is over the institutional foundations of the state. The constitution has been respected, despite the discredited parliamentary elections in 2017 that brought the incumbent Republicans to power. This institutional adherence has offered Armenia a solid democratic opening, and a chance to translate this popular movement into a long-term democratic consolidation. The people realise it, the incumbent party in the parliament does not.
Lessons learned from around the world
The movement needs to continue working