Three factions will make up Armenia’s National Assembly following the June 20 early parliamentary election: Prime Minister-elect Nikol Pashinyan’s Civil Contract Party (which took 53.92% of the vote), the Armenia Alliance led by second President Robert Kocharyan (21.04%), and the I’m Honored Alliance (5.23%).
The violent rhetoric, expressions of mutual distrust, accusations and counter-accusations during the election campaign deepened divisions, contributing to the expansion of echo chambers where furor at “the other” was de rigueur. If people didn’t fit neatly into one side’s narrative, they were automatically declared to be Turks, traitors, zombies, ignorant… we mastered the art of hurling insults and verbal assaults, behind the safety and anonymity of a screen. This kind of vitriol left little space for voters, already traumatized by the post-war fallout, to try and digest party programs, to make informed decisions, to cast their vote based on policies rather than personalities with megaphones who sometimes wielded hammers or sickles.
While the results of the election are being contested by a number of participating political parties and alliances, it seems unlikely that much will change in regard to the seat projections for parliament. What remains is how the Civil Contract Party, as the ruling majority, will be able to lead the country, and whether they will extend an olive branch to the opposition and try to adopt a policy of inclusiveness. On the other hand, how the new opposition forces in parliament conduct themselves will speak volumes about their intentions and objectives. Armenia, now more than ever, needs a strong, constructive opposition, not an obstructionist one.
Armenia also needs strong, competent, honest and united leadership. These parties, who all claim to want to steer the country out of this catastrophic post-war crisis, must reset their moral compass in the service of a wounded nation, start acting like statesmen and stateswomen, and deliver on the promises they made.
A cursory look at the election platforms of the Civil Contract Party, the Armenia Alliance and I’m Honored Alliance, reveals points of convergence in a number of sectors. Often, there is a shared vision, a similar approach in sectors ranging from foreign policy to education. Where they share a common vision, these political forces need to work together. And it is the role of civil society, ordinary people and the media to hold them accountable.
The Civil Contract Party was given a second mandate by the people, but this will be their last chance. The Armenia Alliance and the I’m Honored Alliance were given the opportunity for a comeback after years of corruption, impunity and sometimes outright oppression. This, too, is their last chance. These political forces were voted in because people couldn’t see a third option and not because they believed these parties were the best choice. Civil Contract must always be reminded that they were “forgiven” for their dereliction of duty and the other two, for their past injustices. They should always remember that the Armenian people have proven that they can and will vote them out, and it is all of our responsibility to ensure that, next time around, there are other options.
To ensure their political survival, the Civil Contract Party, the Armenia Alliance and the I’m Honored Alliance must work together on those points of convergence to prove to the Armenian people that they are worthy to lead.
Convergences of Party Programs
All three political forces stressed the importance of restarting and deepening cooperation with the Russian Federation, including active involvement in the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and the CIS. All three also underscored the necessity of improving relations with a number of countries including the United States, Georgia, Iran, China, India and Japan. They also paid special attention to continuing to improve relations with the EU, the countries of South America and the Middle East.
With regard to Armenian-Iranian relations, both the Civil Contract Party and the Armenia Alliance spoke about the construction of the “Persian Gulf-Sea” transport corridor. Both forces also included amping up efforts for the international recognition for the Armenian Genocide.
The Civil Contract Party, the Armenia Alliance and the I’m Honored Alliance noted that cooperation with the OSCE is the vehicle for the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. They also said that ensuring the security of the people of Artsakh and the peaceful, comprehensive settlement of the conflict is based on the self-determination of the people of Artsakh without restrictions.
The Civil Contract Party and the Armenia Alliance included the preservation of the cultural heritage of Artsakh in their programs. The Civil Contract Party and the I’m Honored Alliance focused on the post-war reconstruction of Artsakh, while Civil Contract and the Armenia Alliance also stressed resolving the socio-economic challenges of the displaced population. The I’m Honored Alliance and Civil Contract wrote that they see Russian peacekeeping forces in the conflict zone to be a key factor in ensuring the security of Artsakh.
The I’m Honored Alliance and the Civil Contract Party both spoke about the return of territories of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast (NKAO). The I’m Honored Alliance wrote that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other state bodies must start working with international structures to ensure the return of the territories of the occupied regions of Shushi, Hadrut, Martakert, Martuni and Askeran, and the cities of Shushi and Hadrut must be returned to Artsakh through the pressure of those structures. The Civil Contract Party noted that one of Armenia’s priorities in the negotiation process will be the de-occupation of the territories on which the people of Artsakh have self-determined, first of all the return of the former NKAO settlements under the control of Artsakh through peaceful negotiations, which will allow the displaced people to return to their homes. The Armenia Alliance noted that cooperation with the OSCE will be aimed at restoring the territory of Artsakh based on the right to self-determination and secure land communication with Armenia.
Defense and Security
All three political forces say they will strengthen the Armed Forces. The Armenia Alliance wrote that, in order to prevent the infiltration and influence of foreign anti-national forces and to ensure military, economic, information, environmental and energy security, along with the intention of a coordinated fight against cybercrime, they will modernize the country’s state security system (the Armed Forces, the Security Council, civil defense and law enforcement systems).
The Civil Contract Party and the I’m Honored Alliance promised that they will modernize weapons and equipment; promote the development of a military-industrial complex; develop military education and training; increase the social protection of servicemen and their families, regularly reviewing salaries. The Civil Contract Party also included housing, social and health programs for servicemen. The Armenia Alliance, in the same spirit, wrote that they will adopt and implement a new national security strategy, as well as a new military doctrine, and new concepts for the development of the military industry system and the idea of a “Nation-Army.” The issue of protecting national values will be included in the National Security Strategy as a key component.
The Civil Contract Party said it will strive to reduce the terms of military service due to the expansion of contract service troops; the I’m Honored Alliance wrote that they will introduce solutions for alternative military service, develop the capacity of the active reserves and contract service. Regarding protection of Armenia’s borders, the Civil Contract Party said that Border Troops will be responsible for monitoring borders while army units will be preoccupied exclusively with issues of combat readiness and efficiency. The I’m Honored Alliance said that it will expand and develop the capabilities and military-technical resources of the Border Troops. The Armenia Alliance wrote that they will ensure the protection and inviolability of borders by modernizing the armed forces, which would ensure the security of Armenia and Artsakh.
It is hard to come across a party program that does not promise economic prosperity, GDP growth, poverty reduction, better management of public debt and more investments. Naturally, the three political forces who will likely be Armenia’s next lawmakers did just that. In doing so, in their respective party programs, Civil Contract, Armenia Alliance and I’m Honored Alliance all also agreed that increasing investment should be one of the priorities of Armenia’s economy, which would require improving the investment climate. All agreed that, to that end, Armenia needs to put in place safety guarantees for investors, revisit its tax policies, offer a facilitated “one window policy,” offer special privileges to small- and medium-sized businesses and invest in public-private partnerships.
All three agreed that equal economic opportunities should be available to all, that small investments are also very much welcome, the percentage of economically-active citizens needs to increase and people should feel comfortable enough to redirect their modest savings from consumption toward investment (bonds, stocks, shares, etc.). There should be a fair, free and competitive economic environment that rules out monopolies.
A common priority area for all three is agriculture, with export-oriented agriculture being a shared and underlined denominator. To this end, all three promised to offer tax privileges and micro-loans, and promised the agricultural sector the necessary infrastructure with special emphasis on irrigation water availability and the creation of communal storage facilities.
Another priority area is tourism. While the I’m Honored Alliance specifies tourism as an economically important sector and says, “directions which will compel potential tourists to spend more money in Armenia should be developed,” Civil Contract and the Armenia Alliance agree that Armenia needs to create a new profile for itself internationally, invest in promoting that image and diversifying the kinds of tourism it offers. The tourism sector lacks the necessary infrastructure and both promise to address the issue and invite more investment to the sector. All three agree that Armenia needs more festivals.
All three political forces spoke about introducing a comprehensive health insurance system, although with slight variances. For example, the Armenia Alliance mentioned “free healthcare for the population will be provided on the basis of a minimum basic healthcare package.”
The Civil Contract Party and the I’m Honored Alliance included mandatory medical examinations, expanding the scope of free preventive examinations and screenings. While the Civil Contract Party wrote about ensuring balanced territorial development of the healthcare system, the Armenia Alliance promised that “every region will have at least one medical center, which in terms of its technical equipment, professional expertise and quality of services will not be inferior to medical centers of Yerevan… Experienced doctors and young specialists will be encouraged to work in the regions,” which can also contribute to balanced territorial development of the healthcare system.
The Civil Contract Party said that they will make capital expenditures to improve the building condition of medical centers, increase salaries of primary healthcare providers by up to 50%. I’m Honored noted that they would ensure the technical upgrading and modernization of existing medical institutions.
Both the Civil Contract Party and the Armenia Alliance paid particular attention to improving school textbooks and educational materials. All three parties spoke about the necessity of high-quality, accessible and inclusive education with a fundamental emphasis on the regions, highland and border communities. Civil Contract promised at least 300 newly-built or fundamentally renovated schools by 2026. Both Civil Contract and the Armenia Alliance promised to create an effective and open management system; review the entire chain of management and control in education.
The Civil Contract Party and the I’m Honored Alliance paid special attention to developing tools for electronic teaching/remote education, helping to make education accessible and inclusive. These two parties also emphasized the importance of tailoring education (including vocational education) to the needs of the labor market to mitigate youth unemployment; developing partnerships between the private sector/civil society and educational institutions. The I’m Honored Alliance also promised that “state support will be provided to programs initiated by international and local organizations in accordance with the principles of education development priorities, which will be included in the package of education development programs.”