A new coalition in Armenia: a decisive move for the president

Susanna Petrosyan, Yerevan. Exclusively for Vestnik Kavkaza
A new coalition in Armenia: a decisive move for the president

In Armenia, negotiations are being held between the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) and the Dashnaktsutiun party on the establishment of a new coalition. The revival in domestic political life was frozen after the referendum on the constitutional amendments, which had been introduced by the representative of the ARF Bureau, Hrant Markarian, on reaching a basic agreement with President Serzh Sargsyan on the creation of a coalition. Markarian underlined that the ARF is in favor of the constitutional changes and is ready to take responsibility and to cooperate with the government in the implementation of the new Constitution. According to him, it is difficult to say what form the coalition of power will acquire, because the negotiations are still at an early stage.

The statement of Markarian was followed by a harsh reaction from the representatives of the RPA, barely hiding their irritation at the prospect of a coalition with the ARF. The head of the RPA parliamentary faction, Vahram Baghdasaryan, said that at the moment neither a period of forming a coalition has been defined, nor whether it will be created at all. "If people want to win seats, there are elections for this. That is, during the parliamentary elections in 2017 the Dashnaks must receive the appropriate number of votes to get the majority of their portfolios."

The RPA faction secretary, Gagik Melikyan, made a tougher statement, accusing the members of the ARF of unwillingness to be responsible for the authorities, apparently referring to the output of the ARF from the ruling coalition in 2009, when the party withdrew from the ruling coalition, showing disagreement with the policy of the authorities regarding Turkey. In particular, the members of the ARF demanded that the government of Armenia withdraw its signature from the Armenian-Turkish protocols. Then the ARF representatives, trying to absolve themselves of general political responsibility, said that they are only responsible for the work of those departments that are headed by their ministers.

The ARF responded through the office of the parliamentary faction secretary, Aghvan Vardanyan, that it has never avoided responsibility.

Analysts believe that the Republican Party, which has huge administrative, financial, human and information resources, does not need a coalition partner. Another important confirmation of this was the national referendum, and the entire process of pushing through the constitutional changes by the Republicans. In addition, the Republican Party is a self-sufficient power in personnel matters. The third important point is that the ruling party is not willing to share power with anyone, knowing that this will lead to losing control over some of the financial flows.

As for the ARF, it is advantageous for it to form a coalition. According to the political scientist Armen Badalyan, due to its ongoing policy in recent years, it has lost a large section of the party's electorate. A negative role was played by the fact that the ARF supported the constitutional changes initiated by the authorities, unpopular among the people. "In these circumstances, the ARF should take measures that will help it to enter parliament in the spring of 2017,’’ the political consultant said. The ARF wants to get their share of power before the elections, to gain a foothold in the pyramid in order to get elected to parliament.

In the last few days the tough rhetoric of the Republicans has given way to more moderate statements. According to the press secretary of the ruling party, the vice-speaker of parliament, Eduard Sharmazanov, for the RPA ‘’there are no closed doors.’’ "We are ready to cooperate with all healthy political forces," Sharmazanov said. In turn, the head of the government staff, David Harutyunyan, has not ruled out personnel changes in the executive authorities. However, it is difficult to say how the change of the rhetoric of the Republicans reflects the views of the president, who may lead the game.

Opinions in expert circles on the further steps of the president are divided. One of the analysts believes that the president only used the ARF, as well as the other political forces, in order to create the image of political consolidation around the constitutional amendments, which the European structures so persistently demand. Sargsyan could make some promises to the ARF members in return for their active support for the draft constitutional amendments. In fact, Sargsyan is not interested in going against his team and organizing a new division of power – to this end, it uses the discontent of the RPA.

Other experts believe that the current president, who intends to retain power in the post of prime minister (on the eve of the referendum, the President did not rule out that after the parliamentary elections he could assume the premiership) requires a new balance within the government. Then one of the reasons for the possible invitation to the ARF to join a coalition could be a desire to reduce its dependence on the president of the Republican Party in parliament. In the same context, some observers believe that the President should take steps to neutralize some of the negative attitudes within his team. After all, the constitutional changes  will lead to a certain reshuffle in the future.

Against the backdrop of the clear positions of the RPA and the ARF it is not yet clear whether the President is inclined to form a coalition before the 2017 parliamentary elections, and under the current scenario the final word on the issue of forming a coalition is Sargsyan's.