When the Iron Curtain fell and took the one-party system down with it, new political parties had a tough slog building out their organizations. It became common for these new parties to become centered on individuals (usually their founder-leader-funder) rather than ideological affiliation.
In Armenia, the Karabakh Committee began grassroots organizing in the late 1980s with the goal of uniting the Armenian-majority Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast (NKAO) with the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR). This movement formed the core around which new political parties sprang, usually when a high-profile member splintered off to form their own separate organization.
Levon Ter-Petrosyan, who would go on to become the Speaker of the Armenian SSR’s Supreme Council in 1990 and elected the first president after independence in 1991, transformed the Karabakh Committee into a true political party, the Armenian National Movement (ANM). By the time of the 1995 parliamentary election, however, a group of disaffected lawmakers had already broken away, led by Vazgen Manukyan and Shavarsh Kocharyan to form the National Democratic Union (NDU). Manukyan had been an original member of the Karabakh Committee and had served as Ter-Petrosyan’s first Prime Minister. By 1995, he was unequivocally an opposition figure.
The Armenian branch of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was dissolved after independence and its assets (including the current National Assembly building) were nationalized. Some adherents were able to reassemble as the Communist Party of Armenia (CPA), which was led by Sergey Badalyan, but they also fractured. Some former communists came together to found the Democratic Party of Armenia (DPA), led by Aram G. Sargsyan who was the top communist in Armenia at the time of independence.
The three “traditional” Armenian political parties, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), Armenian Democratic Liberal Party (ADLP) and Social Democrat Hunchakian Party (SDHP), named so because they were established at the turn of the twentieth century and had maintained a presence in the Armenian diaspora throughout the Soviet period, re-established themselves in Armenia after independence. The ADLP organization in Armenia quickly split, however, creating two offshoots: the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and Populist Party (PP), the second of which claimed to be taking up the mantle of the Armenian Populist Party that was active during the First Republic (1918-1920).
The Levon Ter-Petrosyan Years (1991-1998)
Since the first parliamentary elections in 1995, Armenia has allowed political parties to join forces in mounting a joint election campaign and shared candidate list, without needing to permanently merge organizationally. The practice is actually common in several other post-Soviet countries as well. These are beyond just “governing coalitions,” which are formed after the election is done and seats have been awarded to parties in proportion to their popular support (although governing coalitions have also been formed in Armenia). They are more precisely referred to as “electoral alliances” and involve party leaders coming to an agreement ahead of the election on how to order their candidates on a single shared rank-order list.
Ter-Petrosyan’s ANM formed the Republic Bloc electoral alliance for the 1995 parliamentary election. ANM candidates featured prominently but it also included representatives of the LDP led by Vigen Khachatryan, SDHP led by Yeghia Najarian, the Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) which was then still a minor player led by Ashot Navasardyan, the Christian Democratic Union of Armenia (CDUA) led by Azat Arshakyan, and Intellectual Armenia led by Hovhannes Tokmajyan.
The Republic Bloc formed a governing coalition with the Shamiram Party, which was made up mostly of wives of senior government officials.
Notably, the ARF was banned in Armenia in 1994 by personal decree of President Levon Ter-Petrosyan. It was still able to elect one party member to a constituency seat, who officially ran as an independent candidate. A separate party called the Armenian Federation (Dashnaktsutyun, in Armenian) Party did run in an electoral alliance with the Will (Kamk, in Armenian) Organization, but did not have any formal tie with the ARF.
The 1995 election, with its 5% threshold for proportional seats, established the NDU and Paruyr Hayrikyan’s Union for National Self-Determination (UNSD) as the main opposition to Ter-Petrosyan.
1995 Parliamentary Election (Proportional List Results Only)
1-Republic Bloc: 329,300 (43.9%)
2-Shamiram Party: 130,252 (17.4%)
3-Communist Party of Armenia: 93,353 (12.4%)
4-National Democratic Union: 57,996 (7.7%)
5-Union for National Self-Determination: 42,987 (5.7%)
------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Line represents 5% cutoff, below which no proportional seats are awarded
6-Armenian Democratic Liberal Party: 19,437 (2.6%)
7-Will and Federation Alliance: 15,424 (2.1%)
8-Democratic Party of Armenia: 13,781 (1.8%)
9-Agrarian Democratic Party of Armenia: 12,143 (1.6%)
10-Mission Party: 10,426 (1.4%)
11-Armenian Scientific-Industrial and Civic Union: 9,940 (1.3%)
12-Nation State Party: 8,397 (1.1%)
13-People’s Party: 6,706 (0.9%)
Subsequently, the ARF, UNSD and DPA endorsed Vazgen Manukyan’s 1996 presidential campaign against Ter-Petrosyan. It is widely believed that Manukyan actually won this election, but the official results declared that Ter-Petrosyan had taken 51.8% of the vote in the first round. Manukyan’s post-election street protests were not successful in overturning the official result but the episode set a precedent in Armenian politics of alleged election irregularities and the public’s loss of confidence in the integrity of the process.
The Robert Kocharyan Years (1998-2008)
Levon Ter-Petrosyan was forced to resign in 1998, leaving an open contest in an early presidential election. Manukyan did run again but the other parties that had rallied against him fielded their own candidates this time (except the ARF, which was still banned) in a crowded 12-candidate race.
The two heavy-weights came to be Robert Kocharyan, the Prime Minister and previous President of Nagorno-Karabakh, and Karen Demirchyan, a former Soviet-era First Secretary of the Armenian SSR. Both ran as independents. In the runoff election, Kocharyan defeated Demirchyan, taking 58.9% of the votes cast.
With a parliamentary election taking place the following year, a new electoral alliance was born; the Unity Bloc brought together Demirchyan’s newly-founded People’s Party of Armenia (PPA), Defense Minister Vazgen Sargsyan’s Yerkrapah Union and the RPA, which had transitioned to Andranik Margaryan’s leadership after Ashot Navasardyan’s death, taking a lot of disaffected ANM members with it.
While there were several other electoral alliances taking part in the 1999 parliamentary election, the only other one to pass the 5% threshold was the Rights and Unity Alliance, backed by Artsakh War Hero Samvel Babayan, bringing together the Constitutional Rights Union (CRU) led by Hrand Khachatryan, the National Unity Party (NUP) led by Artashes Geghamyan, and the Armenian Scientific-Industrial and Civic Union. These three component parties had never attracted more than 1% of the vote in previous elections; thus, joining forces as an electoral alliance to pass the 5% threshold was a significant achievement for them.
1999 Parliamentary Election (Proportional List Results Only)
1-Unity Bloc: 448,133 (42.4%)
2-Communist Party of Armenia: 130,161 (12.3%)
3-Rights and Unity Alliance: 85,736 (8.1%)
4-Armenian Revolutionary Federation: 84,232 (8.0%)
5-Country of Law Party: 56,807 (5.4%)
6-National Democratic Union: 55,620 (5.3%)
------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Line represents 5% cutoff, below which no proportional seats are awarded
7-Dignified Future Party: 35,190 (3.3%)
8-Alliance of Communist and Socialist Parties: 26,823 (2.5%)
9-Powerful Motherland Party: 24,896 (2.4%)
10-Self-Determination Alliance: 24,681 (2.3%)
11-Motherland Alliance: 13,293 (1.3%)
12-Armenian National Movement: 12,540 (1.2%)
13-Freedom Party: 11,076 (1.0%)
14-Democratic Party of Armenia: 10,621 (1.0%)
15-Mission Party: 8,122 (0.8%)
16-Democratic Liberal Ramkavar Party: 7,374 (0.7%)
17-Free Hayk Mission: 6,526 (0.6%)
18-Nation State Party: 5,785 (0.5%)
19-Youth Party of Armenia: 5,675 (0.5%)
20-Socialist Forces Alliance: 2,588 (0.2%)
21-Shamiram Party: 2,053 (0.2%)
Kocharyan lifted the ban on the ARF in 1998, which also was able to gain seats and re-establish itself in parliament. Artur Baghdasaryan, who had been elected in 1995 as an ANM member, set off on his own to create the Country of Law Party (Orinats Yerkir, in Armenian), which also passed the threshold.
Less than half a year after this alignment, on October 27, 1999, tragedy struck as a group of gunmen stormed the Parliament building and shot several parliamentarians, Vazgen Sargsyan who had become Prime Minister, and Karen Demirchyan who had become Speaker.
Demirchyan’s son Stepan “inherited” the leadership of the PPA, while Vazgen Sargsyan’s brother Aram Z. Sargsyan briefly took over as Prime Minister before being dismissed by Kocharyan. Due to conspiracy theories that Kocharyan might have been involved in the assassination, the PPA left the governing caucus and Aram Z. Sargsyan started the Republic Party (separate from the RPA). Not all PPA members followed the younger Demirchyan, however. The rest re-organized into the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), led by Gagik Aslanyan, remaining in the Unity Bloc with the RPA until later folding into the Country of Law Party.
Andranik Margaryan replaced Aram Z. Sargsyan as Prime Minister and the RPA became the nexus of a new governing coalition that included the Country of Law Party, PDP and ARF. Robert Kocharyan was affiliated with this coalition but never officially became a member of any of its parties.
In the wake of these massive political shifts, a new electoral alliance was formed for the 2003 parliamentary election to challenge the government’s dominance. The Justice Alliance brought together the PPA, the Aram Z. Sargsyan’s Republic Party, Aram G. Sargsyan’s DPA, the NDU and the CRU. The group finished second to the RPA, whose governing coalition partners all chose to contest separately.
2003 Parliamentary Election (Proportional List Results Only)
1-Republican Party of Armenia: 280,363 (23.7%)
2-Justice Alliance: 163,203 (13.8%)
3-Country of Law Party: 147,956 (12.5%)
4-Armenian Revolutionary Federation: 136,270 (11.5%)
5-National Unity Party: 105,480 (8.9%)
6-United Labor Party: 67,531 (5.7%)
---------------------------------------------------------------------- Line represents 5% cutoff, below which no proportional seats are awarded
7-Democratic Liberal Union: 55,443 (4.7%)
8-Powerful Motherland Party: 39,586 (3.3%)
9-Armenian Democratic Liberal Party: 34,108 (2.9%)
10-Dignity, Democracy, Homeland Alliance: 33,605 (2.8%)
11-Communist Party of Armenia: 24,991 (2.1%)
12-Industrialists and Women’s Union: 24,388 (2.1%)
13-Populist Party: 13,214 (1.1%)
14-Labor, Law, Unity: 10,955 (0.9%)
15-Liberal Alliance: 9,711 (0.8%)
16-Christian Democratic Union of Armenia: 8,057 (0.7%)
17-Armenian National Movement: 7,676 (0.6%)
18-Justice Party: 6,473 (0.5%)
19-Reformed Communist Party of Armenia: 6,200 (0.5%)
20-National Accord Party: 6,078 (0.5%)
21-Fist of the Armenian Braves Party: 3,438 (0.3%)
The Justice Alliance is a very interesting example of an electoral alliance in the course of the development of Armenian political parties. In the previous two parliamentary elections, the largest caucus had been an electoral alliance and its main challengers had been individual parties. In 2003, this trend was reversed. The RPA contesting alone became the largest party (albeit far short of a majority) and the big tent electoral alliance was the runner-up.
This dynamic was felt in the presidential election that followed the same year; the Justice Alliance did not hold as each member party fielded its own leader as a presidential candidate. Although they did keep Kocharyan from achieving a majority in the first round with their separate campaigns, the disunity probably played a role in losing momentum during the runoff (election irregularities including ballot box stuffing were also reported). The example can be seen as evidence that the institution of a directly-elected president has a destabilizing effect on the political party system.
As the RPA was gaining clout, Gagik Tsarukyan, at the time a first-term independent MP elected in his hometown district in the Kotayk region, established the Prosperous Armenia Party (PAP) in 2004. It is widely believed that the move was encouraged by Robert Kocharyan to create a counterweight to the RPA.
Ahead of the 2007 parliamentary election, electoral alliances were subjected to a different higher threshold. Political parties contesting alone would still need to gain at least 5% of valid proportional votes in order to receive seats from the proportional list; however, parties coming together to contest as an electoral alliance would need to get at least 7% of the popular vote.
The Country of Law Party left the RPA’s governing coalition in 2006 in order to position itself as an opposition alternative. Geghamyan’s NUP briefly joined the governing coalition heading into the 2007 election but then failed to pass the 5% threshold and was shut out of parliament. The big story in 2007 was PAP catapulting to second place, entrenching it as a political force in its own right. The previous members of the Justice Alliance contested the 2007 parliamentary election separately, which turned out to be a fatal strategic error; although they barely collected 5% of the vote together, none of them received any seats as their total was split four ways.
2007 Parliamentary Election (Proportional List Results Only)
1-Republican Party of Armenia: 458,258 (33.9%)
2-Prosperous Armenia Party: 204,483 (15.1%)
3-Armenian Revolutionary Federation: 177,907 (13.2%)
4-Country of Law Party: 95,324 (7.1%)
5-Heritage Party: 81,048 (6.0%)
------------------------------------------------------------------ Line represents 5% cutoff, below which no proportional seats are awarded
6-United Labor Party: 59,271 (4.4%)
7-National Unity Party: 49,864 (3.7%)
8-New Times Party: 47,060 (3.5%)
9-Populist Party: 37,044 (2.7%)
10-Dashink Party: 32,943 (2.4%)
11-People’s Party of Armenia: 22,762 (1.7%)
12-Republic Party: 22,288 (1.6%)
13-Impeachment Alliance: 17,475 (1.3%)
14-Communist Party of Armenia: 8,792 (0.7%)
15-National Democratic Party: 8,556 (0.6%)
16-Democratic Way Party: 8,351 (0.6%)
17-National Accord Party: 4,199 (0.3%)
18-Democratic Party of Armenia: 3,686 (0.3%)
19-Christian Democratic Renaissance Party: 3,433 (0.3%)
20-United Liberal National Party: 2,739 (0.2%)
21-Marxist Party of Armenia: 2,660 (0.2%)
22-Youth Party of Armenia: 2,291 (0.2%)
23-Social Democrat Hunchakian Party: 989 (0.1%)
Under the new differentiated formula, parties decided to contest alone instead of forming electoral alliances. However, even in that year, the Republican Party of Armenia included two candidates from other parties on its proportional list, which became MPs. They were from the Powerful Homeland Party (focused on the Armenians from the Javakhk region) and the Democracy and Labour Party. The Prosperous Armenia Party also had one candidate on its proportional list from the Social Democrat Hunchakian Party, who was elected. Thus, 2007 marked another milestone in electoral development. The now-established parties, instead of seeking electoral alliances with junior partners, realized they can instead co-opt the specific individuals that they feel may have something to offer, without lending brand credibility to a much smaller party. As they were allowed to have up to 30% of their candidates not be formal party members, this loophole was used to swallow others without touching the main party brand.
The Serzh Sargsyan Years (2008-2018)
Andranik Margaryan, Prime Minister and leader of the RPA, died in 2007. Kocharyan’s close associate and Defense Minister Serzh Sargsyan succeeded Margaryan in both roles and became the hand-picked successor for the presidency after Kocharyan was term-limited in 2008. Note that the RPA is a rare specimen in having completed two leadership transitions, albeit only when the previous leader died.
Levon Ter-Petrosyan attempted a comeback, challenging Sargsyan in the 2008 presidential election. After Sargsyan was announced the winner, ten people were killed on March 1, 2008, amid a military crackdown on Ter-Petrosyan supporters protesting the results. In the aftermath of another tragedy that rocked Armenian politics, the ARF and Country of Law Party agreed to a new governing coalition with the RPA, emphasizing a need for national solidarity to move on from the crisis.
The ARF’s formal coalition with the RPA was short-lived, however, as they left in 2009 in protest of the Sargsyan’s “football diplomacy” normalization process with Turkey.
Levon Ter-Petrosyan finally did re-enter the field with the 2012 parliamentary election. His ANM Party formed a new election alliance called the Armenian National Congress (ANC) Alliance. It included the ANM, the PPA, Aram Z. Sargsyan’s Republic Party, the Freedom Party led by Hrand Bagratyan who had been Ter-Petrosyan’s fourth Prime Minister from 1993-1996, and number of smaller upstart organizations: the Democratic Motherland Party, the Liberal Party of Armenia, the Democratic Direction Party, the Armenian Motherland Party, the Conservative Party and the Green (Social-Ecological) Party. Also included were Nikol Pashinyan, who had led the Impeachment Alliance in 2007, and several candidates from the Social-Democrat Hunchakian Party.
Similar to the Justice Alliance before it, the ANC Alliance became the dominant opposition voice, but did not encompass Raffi Hovanissian’s Heritage Party.
2012 Parliamentary Election (Proportional List Results Only)
1-Republican Party of Armenia: 664,266 (44.1%)
2-Prosperous Armenia Party: 454,671 (30.2%)
3-Armenian National Congress Alliance: 106,901 (7.1%)
4-Heritage Party: 86,993 (5.8%)
5-Armenian Revolutionary Federation: 85,544 (5.7%)
6-Country of Law Party: 83,123 (5.5%)
----------------------------------------------------------------- Line represents 5% cutoff, below which no proportional seats are awarded
7-Communist Party of Armenia: 15,899 (1.1%)
8-Democratic Party of Armenia: 5,576 (0.4%)
9-United Armenians Party: 2,944 (0.2%)
Also, similar to the Justice Alliance, the ANC did not result in a new unified entity. It did reorganize from an electoral alliance to a new political party, the Armenian National Congress Party, after the election, but it became mostly a rebranding of the Armenian National Movement as its largest partners maintained their separate organizations.
After the 2015 Constitution promised to move Armenia from a presidential to a parliamentary model of governance, there would no longer be single-member majoritarian district seats; all seats would be allocated proportionally (with some distortions) to parties based on the popular vote.
The 2017 election had four significant electoral alliances. The Tsarukyan Alliance was mostly a rebranding of the Prosperous Armenia Party, associating it even more closely with its leader. Its two minor partners were virtually unknown: the Mission Party (a new one founded in 2013, not the one from the 1990s) and Tigran Urikhanyan’s Alliance Progressive Centrist Party (APCP). The Way Out (Yelk, in Armenian) Alliance between Edmon Marukyan’s Bright Armenia Party (BAP), Aram Z. Sargsyan’s Republic Party, and Nikol Pashinyan’s new Civil Contract Party (CCP) represented the main liberal opposition. The Ohanyan-Raffi-Oskanian (ORO) Alliance brought together Raffi Hovanissian’s Heritage Party and Vardan Oskanian’s Consolidation Party. Its chosen name heavily emphasized the individuals that led it. Finally, the Armenian National Congress-People’s Party of Armenia Alliance joined the two former opposition parties that had been shut out of parliament.
The first two did surpass the higher 7% threshold and entered parliament. The latter two did not, both receiving even less than the 5% that would apply to a single party.
2017 Parliamentary Election
1-Republican Party of Armenia: 770,441 (49.1%)
2-Tsarukyan Alliance: 428,836 (27.4%)
3-Yelk Alliance: 122,065 (7.8%)
4-Armenian Revolutionary Federation: 103,048 (6.6%)
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Line represents 5% cutoff, below which no proportional seats are awarded
5-Armenian Renaissance Party: 58,265 (3.7%)
6-Ohanyan-Raffi-Oskanyan Alliance: 32,508 (2.1%)
7-Armenian National Congress-People’s Party of Armenia Alliance: 25,950 (1.7%)
8-Free Democrats Party: 14,739 (0.9%)
9-Communist Party of Armenia: 11,741 (0.7%)
In this case, electoral alliances played a pivotal role in the country’s direction. Without the Way Out Alliance, Nikol Pashinyan would likely not have attracted enough votes for a seat in that election. Without the legitimacy that status as a Member of Parliament gave him, the 2018 Velvet Revolution could have played out with a different result.
The Nikol Pashinyan Years (2018-Present)
As the Velvet Revolution thrust Nikol Pashinyan into the role of Prime Minister in 2018, the Way Out Alliance broke apart to contest the early parliamentary elections later that year. BAP contested on its own. The Republic Party joined the Free Democrats Party to form the We (Menk, in Armenian) Alliance. Nikol Pashinyan’s CCP took on the Mission Party, a former PAP partner, in order to rebrand as the My Step Alliance.
Although Pashinyan’s team had proposed lowering the electoral threshold from 5% for political parties and 7% for electoral alliances, to 4% and 6% respectively, the RPA-dominated parliament did not pass the measure. The RPA paid the price when it landed in the transition range, obtaining 4.7% of the vote but receiving zero seats.
2018 Parliamentary Election
1-My Step Alliance: 884,864 (70.4%)
2-Prosperous Armenia Party: 103,801 (8.3%)
3-Bright Armenia Party: 80,047 (6.4%)
------------------------------------------------------------------- Line represents 5% cutoff, below which no proportional seats are awarded
4-Republican Party of Armenia: 59,083 (4.7%)
5-Armenian Revolutionary Federation: 48,816 (3.9%)
6-We Alliance: 25,176 (2.0%)
7-Sasna Tzrer Pan-Armenian Party: 22,868 (1.8%)
8-Country of Law Party: 12,393 (1.0%)
9-Citizen’s Decision Social-Democratic Party: 8,514 (0.7%)
10-Christian Democratic Renaissance Party: 6,458 (0.5%)
11-National Progress Party: 4,121 (0.3%)
Much has taken place since that last national election two years ago. The prospect has been raised for an early parliamentary election in 2021, once the Electoral Code has completed its reform process.
In the meantime, Arman Babajanyan left the BAP caucus on September 6, 2019 to sit as an independent. He became a pivotal vote on several measures requiring a two-thirds majority, including the calling of a constitutional referendum in 2020. On September 21, 2020, he held the official founding congress of the For the Republic Party.
Tigran Urikhanyan had again run with the PAP in 2018 but, as the sole representative of the APCP, left the caucus in 2020. Sergey Bagratyan also left the PAP to sit as an independent. Following the catastrophic 2020 Artsakh War, to date five MPs have left the My Step caucus to sit as independents: Vardan Atabekyan, Gor Gevorgyan, Anna Grigoryan, Taguhi Tovmasyan and Sofia Hovsepyan. It remains to be seen whether they will attempt to organize a new team together and play a role in the next election, whenever it may come. All four MPs from the Mission Party have so far remained in the My Step caucus.
There is also the group of “17 Political Parties” that is calling for Nikol Pashinyan’s immediate removal and the installation of a Homeland Salvation Committee to form a new government ahead of an early election. Their original November 9 announcement was released in the name of the ARF, PAP, RPA, Artur Vanetsyan’s Homeland Party, first Prime Minister Vazgen Manukyan’s NDU, the CDU now led by the third Prime Minister Khosrov Harutyunyan, fourth Prime Minister Hrand Bagratyan’s Freedom Party, the National Security Party, National Agenda Party, Democratic Alternative Party, Country of Apricots Party, Aram Harutyunyan’s National Accord Party, Solidarity Party, Democratic Liberal Union of Armenia Party, One Armenia Party, and the Constitutional Rights Union. It also included Urikhanyan’s APCP but he later wrote that he was out of the country on that day and never consented to taking part in the group.
Electoral Alliance Regulations In Other Countries
Several post-communist countries in Eastern Europe share Armenia’s model of allowing political parties to form joint electoral blocs, and applying a higher electoral threshold to such arrangements. Armenia currently applies a 5% electoral threshold to single parties in parliamentary elections and 7% for alliances of 2 or more parties that present a joint list. Lithuania applies the same thresholds. Poland applies 5% and 8% respectively.
It is also common for larger alliances to have even higher thresholds than alliances of only two parties. For example, in Hungary, the threshold is 5% for single parties, 10% for alliances of 2 parties, and 15% for alliances of 3 or more parties. In Czechia, the thresholds for single parties, 2-party alliances, 3-party alliances and 4-or-more-party alliances are 5%, 10%, 15%, and 20%, respectively. In Slovakia, it is 5% for single parties, 7% for alliances of 2 or 3 parties, and 10% for 4 or more. Such escalating thresholds serve as a major disincentive to forming them.
Estonia Banned Electoral Alliances in 1998
During the 1992 and 1995 parliamentary elections, Estonia applied a 5% electoral threshold, which applied both to single parties and electoral alliances. No single political force obtained a majority of the seats in the 1995 parliamentary election. One large electoral alliance obtained the most seats, while four others came in 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th. Only the Reform Party and the Center Party won seats contesting alone (coming in 2nd and 3rd). The latter two parties pushed to ban electoral alliances in 1996 and 1997 but were not able to collect enough support to pass the measure until 1998, when they were joined by the Social Democrats and the Pro Patria Union. The measure followed another change, raising the minimum number of party members from 200 to 1000. Together, the measures were overtly intended to consolidate the party system. The changes took place less than a year before the 1999 election, in which the previously-largest alliance broke up into smaller factions.
Note that parties could still include members of other political parties on their proportional list, even after the change, but campaigned under the dominant party’s brand only.
Moldova Tried to Ban Alliances But Failed
In 2008, Moldova passed a package of electoral reforms that 1) banned electoral alliances, 2) raised the electoral threshold from 4% back to 6% (its previous level), and 3) banned dual citizens from becoming candidates in parliamentary elections. The next parliamentary election in April 2009 led to the Communist Party winning a majority of the seats, with slightly less than 50% of the votes cast.
The law was challenged in a landmark ECtHR case, Tănase v. Moldova, based mainly on the dual citizenship prohibition. Moldova has a special cultural and linguistic relationship with Romania while many residents in the breakaway region of Transnistria also hold Russian citizenship. 21 MPs elected in the April 2009 election, all from the opposition, had pending citizenship applications with another country.
Taken in combination with the increase in the electoral threshold, the banning of electoral alliances was perceived as restricting opportunities for effective political participation. The law was thrown out, based on the dual citizenship prohibition, which had the effect of once again allowing electoral alliances in the country. For the 2010 election, the electoral thresholds were 4% for single parties, 7% for 2-party alliances, and 9% for 3-or-more-party alliances. These thresholds were raised to 6%, 9%, and 11%, respectively, ahead of the 2019 election, in which the ACUM (pro-European) alliance debuted to challenge the incumbent parties.
Are Electoral Alliances Good For Armenia?
As they are currently laid out, electoral alliances have been misused recently in Armenia. The 2017 Tsarukyan Alliance and 2018 My Step Alliance were not true partnerships; the candidates from the junior parties could have fit comfortably within the 30% non-party-member allowance. Instead, they were artificial constructions used to rebrand the party ahead of an election. The 2017 Tsarukyan Alliance is especially problematic as it took the name of an individual, magnifying the personification of politics rather than focusing attention on policy platforms. When they are formed, it would be best practice for an electoral alliance to take the name Party A-Party B Alliance, like the 2017 ANC-PPA Alliance.
Electoral alliances are definitely preferable to a long list of twenty parties contesting separately but none of them reaching the electoral threshold, as happened in 2007. Yet, as a format for cooperation, it has a centrifugal impact on actual institutional integration. The 2003 Justice Alliance, 2012 ANC Alliance and even the 2017 ORO Alliance saw power brokers come together for a single election cycle, but ultimately left the status quo of “person-parties” intact. While more study is needed in the area, banning electoral alliances may, in the long run, normalize leadership transitions after a failed campaign, instead of requiring the next prospect to build up their own national organization from scratch.
In the current context of being challenged by a group of “17 political parties,” banning electoral alliances would be seen as a repressive move, however. Incentivizing contesting elections alone by adopting the 2:1 threshold ratio used in Czechia, Slovakia and Hungary would be a more acceptable approach. That is, instead of changing the electoral threshold from 5% and 7% to 4% and 6%, an alternate approach could be 3.5% and 7%. Or even better, we could use a system of three electoral districts that has its own natural threshold.
One thing is for sure: the history of Armenian political party splits and alliances is still being written.