Domestic politics

Levon Ter-Petrosyan (Courtesy of Global Voices Online)

Levon Ter-Petrosyan (Courtesy of Global Voices Online)

Levon Ter-Petrosyan and his colleagues in the Armenian Pan-National Movement (APNM) were swept to power on the wave of the Karabakh movement. Once in government however, and especially after the Karabakh war ceasefire, they lost much of their earlier popularity. They were widely seen as corrupt and inept in managing the severe economic crisis into which the Soviet collapse, war, and blockade had plunged the country. 

Current system of government

The constitution, adopted by referendum in July 1995, vests great power in the hands of the president. He appoints the prime minister and other members of the government, the chief prosecutor, ambassadors, and even the president and members of the constitutional court.

The National Assembly consists of 190 deputies, of whom 150 are elected by majority voting in single-mandate constituencies and 40 by proportional representation from party lists.

1995 Parliamentary elections

The APNM and its allies won about three-quarters of the parliamentary seats in the July elections. OSCE observers noted reports of the intimidation of opposition candidates, media bias, and the exclusion of the Dashnaks, and concluded that the elections were “free but not fair.”

1996 Presidential election

Ter-Petrosyan declared victory in the September presidential elections, but the opposition refused to accept the result, claiming that massive fraud had taken place. An initially peaceful protest turned into a riot inside the parliament building, in response to which Ter-Petrosyan deployed troops throughout Yerevan.

Ter-Petrosyan falls from power

Ter-Petrosian attempted to regain public confidence by appointing several popular figures as ministers in his government. In March 1997, Robert Kocharyan, at that time president of the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, became prime minister.

Robert Kocharyan. (NATO)

Robert Kocharyan. (NATO)

But Kocharyan would not accept the compromises that Ter-Petrosian made in the Karabakh negotiations. The government was paralyzed by internal discord over the issue.  Ter-Petrosyan was forced to resign.

1998 presidential election

Kocharyan won 59% of the vote in the presidential election held in March.

1999 Parliamentary elections

An alliance of the Republican Party of Armenia (led by Vazgen Sarkisyan) and the People’s Party of Armenia (led by Karen Demirchyan) won the May 1999 parliamentary elections. Sarkisyan became prime minister and Demirchyan parliamentary speaker.

OSCE observers reported shortcomings in the conduct of the elections, but no major violations. The elections took place in an atmosphere free of intimidation, marking a big improvement over previous elections.

Gunmen storm parliamentary chamber

In October 1999, the former journalist Nairi Unanyan, his brother, uncle and two other gunmen stormed the parliament, took hostages, shot and killed Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsyan, Speaker of Parliament Karen Demirchyan, five other high-ranking officials and one journalist.  Security forces freed the hostages and Unanyan and the other gunmen were sentenced to life in prison. Unanyan issued a statement to the press in which he stated he acted to defend the Amernian people from the corrupt politicians that controlled the country.

The military were again put on alert, and Vazgen Sarkisyan’s brother Aram was chosen to replace him as prime minister.

Growing authoritarianism

Hostility increased between the Kocharyan government and a fragmented opposition made up of 16 different parties. Kocharyan became increasingly authoritarian. Independent media were harassed and intimidated. In May 2000, President Kocharyan replaced prime minister Aram Sarkisyan with Andranik Margaryan.

2003 presidential election
Stepan Demichyan (Courtesy of Global Voices Online)

Stepan Demichyan (Courtesy of Global Voices Online)

There were accusations of widespread fraud, and OSCE observers noted blatant irregularities in the conduct of the elections. Presidential elections were held in February and March 2003. In the run-off, Kocharyan stood against Stepan Demirchyan, chairman of the People’s Party of Armenia, and won with 67.5% of the vote. 

2003 parliamentary elections

Parliamentary elections followed in May. The ruling Republican Party of Armenia, led by Prime Minister Andranik Markaryan, won over a quarter of the votes and 39 seats. Two other pro-presidential parties, the Country of Law Party and the Dashnaks, won 21 and 12 seats respectively. The opposition Justice Bloc won only 14% of the vote and 17 seats. TheNational Unity Party got 9 seats, while the new United Labor Party of businessman Gurgen Arsenyan got 6 seats. Several dozen businessmen without party affiliation also won seats. Neither the APNM nor the Communist Party won any seats.

There were many reports of vote-buying and other irregularities. The OSCE issued two reports on the elections, both critical.

The Republican Party had the largest single faction, but needed wider support to form a parliamentary majority. Negotiations led to a coalition government including the Country of Law Party and the Dashnaks.

New confrontation with opposition

In spring 2004, the opposition held a series of rallies to demand a referendum of confidence in President Kocharyan. Police broke up the third rally (April12-13) with considerable violence. The opposition boycotted parliament throughout 2004-2005.

Artur Baghdasaryan (Copyright © 2007. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty)

Artur Baghdasaryan (Copyright © 2007. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty)

In May 2006, the speaker of parliament, Artur Baghdasaryan, resigned his post and took his Country of Law Party into opposition. 

Constitutional reforms

Despite continued tight political control by the government, as well as high levels of corruption, Kocharyan agreed in 2005 to introduce a number of constitutional reforms that would devolve certain powers to the parliament and the prime minister. While the reforms gained the approval of Western governments, the opposition refused to support their passage in a referendum at the end of November, insisting that the reforms did not go far enough toward liberalizing Armenia’s political system.

2007 parliamentary elections

The May parliamentary elections were largely in accordance with international commitments (in contrast to the 2003 elections), according to the international Election Observation Mission made up of OSCE/ODIHR, OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, COE Parliamentary Assembly and European Parliament monitors.  Prime MinisterSerzhSargsian’s ruling Republican Party of Armenia won about 40percent of the vote, while coalition partners Prosperous Armenia Party and the Armenian Revolutionary Front won about 35 percent of the vote. The opposition Country of Law Party cleared the 5 percent hurdle and won 6 percent of the vote.

2008 presidential election

Sargsian won the February 19 presidential election with 52.8 percent of the vote, according to the Central Elections Commission. Former President Ter-Petrosyan won 21.5 percent, and Arthur Baghdasaryan 16.7 percent. Ter-Petrosyan claimed widespread election rigging and claimed he had won the election.  

President Serzh Sargsian (Armenian presidential website)

President Serzh Sargsian (Armenian presidential website)

The International Election Observation Mission (including OSCE’s ODIHR, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and the European Parliament) reported that the election was administered mostly in accordance with OSCE and COE commitments and standards. Shortcomings noted were the lack of a clear separation between state and party functions; lack of public confidence in the electoral process and ensuring equal treatment of candidates, and complaints about the vote count.

Election violence

Demonstrations protesting the conduct of the elections turned violent on March1, when police dispersed the demonstrators. Clashes involving demonstrators, police and military resulted in at least 8 deaths and over a hundred injuries. President Kocharyan subsequently declared a state of emergency, which was lifted on March 21. Protests continued, as well as the arrests of about 100 oppositionsupporters. Some were tried for attempting to overthrow the government. Legislation to bar political gatherings was approved by parliament. The media was heavily controlled. Ter-Petrosyan asserted that he would keep his supporters on the street until the election was overturned.

New coalition government

Sargsian formed a government in April 2008 made up of his Republican Party, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaks), the Prosperous Armenia Party, and the Country of Law Party. Country of Law Party leader Artur Baghdasaryan, who had come in third in the presidential election, recognized the outcome and accepted portfolios for his party in the new government. 

Ter-Petrosyan backs off street protests

Ter-Petrosyan declared a moratorium on protest demonstrations in October 2008, pointing to the need not to undercut President Sargsyan in talks with Azerbaijanover Nagorno-Karabakh.

During a March 2009 demonstration on the first anniversary of the election violence, Ter-Petrosyan backed even further away from street action against the government. He stressed that he was not seeking an anti-government revolution, and called for a prolong struggle against the regime through constitutional means. He denounced opposition groups calling for radical action.

2009 - Republic Party wins Yerevan mayoral race
Gagik Beglaryan (Yerevan Municipality website)

Gagik Beglaryan (Yerevan Municipality website)

The ruling Republican Party elected its candidate, incumbent Yerevan Mayor Gagik Beglaryan, in the May 2009 municipal election with 47% of the vote. This was the first time the capital’s mayor was elected, rather than appointed. Coming in second were the candidates of the the pro-government Prosperous Armenia Party with 23%, followed by the opposition Armenian National Congress with 17% of the vote. Opposition leader Ter-Petrosyan complained of widespread vote buying, and said the ANC council members-elect would not accept their seats.

2012 parliamentary elections
Garik Tsarukyan (Armenia National Assembly website)

Garik Tsarukyan (Armenia National Assembly website)

President Sargsian's ruling Republican Party gained a majority of parliamentary seats in the May elections. Armenia's wealthiest man Gagik Tsarukyan's Prosperous Armenia party came second with about one fourth of the seats, while the ANC, ARF, Rule of Law and Heritage parties each won less than10 percent of the vote. 

2013 presidential election

Two candidates, former President Ter-Petrosyan and leader of the Prosperous Armenia party Tsarukyan, withdrew from the race in December 2012.  

Opposition candidate Paruyr Hayrikian was shot by an unknown assailant while leaving his home on January 31, but recovered and was able to contest the election. Two other candidates, Andrias Ghukasian and Aram Harutiunian, staged hunger strikes  to discredit the president and the election, with Harutiunian withdrawing as a candidate on February 12.

Incumbant President Sargsyan won 58.64% of the vote according to the Central Election Commission, with the Heritage Party's Raffi Hovannisian coming in a distant second with 36.75% of the vote, and the remaining candidates sharing less than 5% of the vote.  Over 60% of eligible voters participated in the election.  After the leading opposition candidates withdrew from the race, Hovannisian--the candidate from the smallest party in parliament--appeared to become the key anti-Sargsian candidate.

The International Election Observation Mission's preliminary report stated that the election was generally well-administered, although it expressed concern at the government's lack of impartiality and misuse of government resources, as well as cases of pressure on voters.  Election day was calm, but was marked by undue interference by proxies of the President, and some serious violations were observed.

Paruyr Hayrikan, 2011 (Courtesy of Konstantin Stalinsky)

Paruyr Hayrikan, 2011 (Courtesy of Konstantin Stalinsky)

Armenian Foreign Minister from 1991-1992 Raffi Hovannisian during the2012 parliamentary campaign (Courtesy of the Heritage Party)

Armenian Foreign Minister from 1991-1992 Raffi Hovannisian during the2012 parliamentary campaign (Courtesy of the Heritage Party)

Voters at a polling station in Armenia, 18 February 2013. (OSCE/Tom Rymer)

Voters at a polling station in Armenia, 18 February 2013. (OSCE/Tom Rymer)

Hovannisian has refused to accept the election results, claiming they are fraudulant.  He has pledged to use all legal means to have the election annulled. Protest rallies have taken place in Yerevan and in regional towns.