A man arrives to cast his vote during the first Parliamentary elections after the referendum in Yerevan, Armenia on April 02, 2017
The sixth parliamentary elections in Armenia was held on April 2, 2017 to choose the composition of the National Assembly, as Armenians call it “Azgayin zhoghov”, but this election was more than anything affected by the amendments to the constitution of Armenia and the political restructuring of the country from presidential to parliamentary system approved in December 2015 referendum. In fact, Armenia, after Georgia and Kyrgyzstan, is considered the third country in Central Asia and the Caucasus whose political structure has changed from presidential to parliamentary system. Based on amendments to the constitution of Armenia approved in December 2015, the “President” will symbolically remain in the political structure, but he no longer has the right to dissolve the Parliament, and the “Prime Minister” will have the real political and administrative authority.
In parliamentary elections held on 2 April, the ruling Republican party headed by Serzh Sargsyan, the President, managed to win 69 seats out of 101 seats (46 per cent) which means the consolidated and continued sovereignty and dominance of the Republican Party that has had the main pillars of power (presidency, Parliament and City Council) since Robert Kocharyan came to power in 1999. According to the results of recent parliamentary elections in Armenia, the ground is practically provided for the continued presence of Serzh Sargsyan as the prime minister from January 2018, and he, who has had the power for two consecutive terms from 2008 onwards as the President, will be able to continue his presence at the top of political and administrative authority in Armenia in the position of prime minister from 2018 to 2022 (next parliamentary elections) - this issue was among the main reasons for critics and opponents of Sargsyan and the Republican party at the time of holding the referendum on the amendments to the constitution of Armenia in December 2015.
If Serzh Sargsyan is chosen as the next prime minister of Armenia from January 2018, which seems almost certain, for the first time in Armenia, after gaining its independence, a person will be able to continue his presence at the top of political and administrative authority after two presidential terms; conditions which were not repeated for the former Presidents - Levon Ter-Petrosyan and Robert Kocharyan. Therefore, there is a high possibility of increased conflict and confrontation between Serzh Sargsyan and political opposition forces after 2018, and this will increase the level of tension under the Armenian poor economic conditions. It seems that the only factor influencing and controlling the opposition, and contributing to a quiet and low-cost transition of Sargsyan is to improve economic conditions in Armenia, especially creating jobs for the Armenian youth, and reducing the growing trend of their migration to Russia.
The external consequences of the likely increased political conflict and tension in Armenia after the premiership of Sargsyan starts in January 2018 include the Armenian government’s more dependency on Russia to create a political stability in the country, particularly to receive financial and economic aid to improve the Armenian welfare and the living standards of the society which will strengthen the traditional position of Russia in Armenia, and will make the Armenian “mutual complementary policy” based on creating a balance in its relations with Russia and the West face more serious challenges.
Another important point is that the beginning of the premiership of Serzh Sargsyan in Armenia in January 2018 will coincide with the almost certain election of Ilham Aliyev for the fourth consecutive terms as the Azerbaijani President in October 2018 elections, and this will not only increase the domestic conflicts and disputes among the political forces opposed to the governments of Sargsyan and Aliyev, but also will increase the level of tension and conflict in the Nagorno-Karabakh region which, in turn, will lead to creating fragile conditions in the Caucasus region. Developments occurring over the past year in Armenia, Azerbaijan and the Nagorno-Karabakh region also suggest that the ground is provided for the escalation of tensions in the region. The Four Day War in April 2016, the hostage crisis in Armenia, the election of Karen Karaptyan as the Prime Minister of Armenia, and Vigen Sargsyan as the Minister of Defense of Armenia in September 2016, both from the Nagorno-Karabakh region, and from the political Karabakh clan; the plan for recognizing the independence of the Nagorno-Karabakh region by the Armenian government in the National Assembly, the statement declared by Tigran Bagratyan, the former prime minister of Armenia, that Armenia has possessed the nuclear weapons and bombs since the 1970s - this statement, however, was denied by the Armenian authorities -, and the Russian new arms policy for Azerbaijan which raised the Armenian serious concerns, and finally the referendum on amendments to the constitution of the Nagorno-Karabakh region on February 20, 2016 in which the name of the “Nagorno-Karabakh Republic” was officially changed to the “Artsakh Republic”, all indicate that there are unstable conditions in the region, and in case of escalation of domestic political conflict and tension in Armenia and Azerbaijan in 2018, the conflicts may spread into the Nagorno-Karabakh region, and this necessitates for Iran more than ever to closely monitor, with constant vigilance, the developments in this region.
Vali Kaleji, an expert at Iran's Center for Strategic Research, is the senior fellow at IRAS.
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