The Armenian Prime Minister has faced mass protests. Why is he still at the top of the polls? | News News

Few political leaders are as besieged as Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.

Many in the South Caucasus nation blame him for the humiliating defeat of last year’s war with neighboring Azerbaijan over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Thousands of protesters, senior generals and political opponents urged him to step down, while thousands of grieving families of Nagorno-Karabakh refugees flooded Armenia.

And he will resign.

The 44-year-old with the gray beard has said he will step down later in April.

In a March 18 post on Facebook, after much pressure to do so, Pashinyan announced a quick parliamentary vote in June as the “best way out” of the crisis.

But the resignation and the vote are far from announcing the political disappearance of Pashinyan.

The My Step coalition he leads looks likely to win the election – and elect him again as prime minister, according to a Gallup International Association poll in late March.

Almost a third of voters are ready to vote for My Step, which now holds 75% of the seats in the unicameral Armenian parliament.

Meanwhile, Pashinyan’s main opponent Robert Kocharyan, a former separatist leader who served as President of Armenia in 1998-2008, lags far behind with less than six percent.

Are you walking towards the Kremlin drum?

During the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, when Armenia suffered losses, Pashinyan moved away from his pro-Western sympathies to accept Russian President Vladimir Putin as Armenia’s supreme international supporter – and maker of kings.

On April 7, his nearly four-hour meeting with Putin felt like a successful campaign stop – and a bow. He listened intently to Putin, who took on a mentor’s tone as he spoke to him in a Kremlin tea room.

“We did discuss all the issues,” Pashinyan told a Russian broadcaster after the meeting. “Yes, I am very satisfied.”

Pashinyan negotiated the supply of Russian-made coronavirus vaccines, discussed building a nuclear power plant that will be crucial for resource-poor Armenia, and enlisted Moscow’s help in releasing up to 200 Armenian prisoners of war detained in Azerbaijan.

“The Kremlin is in full control of the situation in Armenia, and the first Pashinyan is no longer a threat to Moscow as it was in the early years of his work as prime minister,” said Emil Mustafayev, analyst based in the Azerbaijani capital. , Baku. Al Jazeera.

In an editorial published in the daily Kommersant on April 8, Moscow-based analyst Sergey Strokan wrote: “The former leader of the ‘color revolution’ in Armenia has become an example of how a bad boy is. is transformed into a politician who has finally figured out who is who and how many things are.

“Color revolutions” are what the Kremlin hates and tries to suppress.

The term dates back to the 2003 Pink Revolution in Georgia and the 2005 Orange Revolution in Ukraine.

Both pro-Russian leaders have filed for the benefit of pro-Western leaders, and the Kremlin still insists the West funded them.

To prevent a possible “color revolution” in Russia, Putin toughened electoral laws, stifled opposition and launched youth movements formed to disperse protest rallies.

To avoid such uprisings in the former Soviet republics, Moscow has strengthened its soft power and provided loans and weapons to support friendly Kremlin leaders such as Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

But Pashinyan landed at the Prime Minister’s seat after leading an exemplary “color revolution”.

The series of street protests in 2018 drew up to 100,000 people in the country of 3.5 million people and deposed a powerful clique of mainly pro-Russian officials.

Failed hopes

After Pashinyan came to power in 2018, many believed he would lead Armenia west.

“There have been many discussions among experts that the new democratic government of Armenia, with many openly anti-Russian officials in its ranks, will gradually reduce Armenia’s dependence on Russia. Yerevan-based analyst Benyamin Poghosyan wrote in an editorial published by the news site on April 12.

But “now Armenia is more dependent on Russia than ever,” he concluded.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan in Moscow, Russia, April 7, 2021 [Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via Reuters]

For some, this reality is particularly bitter given that despite a defense pact with Yerevan and a military base on Armenian soil, Moscow has chosen to stay away from the recent war with Azerbaijan.

The conflict has killed thousands of people on both sides, and according to a truce negotiated by Russia, much of Nagorno-Karabakh has returned to Azerbaijan.

A gift for Putin

Pashinyan did not arrive in Moscow empty-handed.

In an apparent attempt to appease Putin, he has blurted out his worst political enemy.

A day before his departure for Moscow, the Constitutional Court of Armenia decided to drop the “coup” charges against Kocharyan – almost 13 years after he ordered the use of violence against a rally of street organized by Pashinyan, who was then a popular publicist.

Eight protesters and two police officers were killed in the 2008 crackdown, and Pashinyan was later sentenced to seven years in prison. He was granted amnesty after serving one year.

After the charges were dropped, Kocharyan immediately began to form an opposition coalition to stand for the vote on June 20.

The coalition does not yet have a name, and its ratings are now low, but if Kocharyan manages to win or secure a significant fraction in parliament, the outcome will not be bad for the Kremlin either.

“With him, the team he formed while he was President of Armenia for 10 years will return,” Yerevan-based political analyst Boris Navasardian told Al Jazeera.

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