Armenia's embattled leader dominates election despite Nagorno-Karabakh defeat

Nikol Pashinyan wins snap vote sparked by Azeri military gains in contested region

Armenia's acting prime minister Nikol Pashinyan has secured a landslide victory in snap parliamentary elections, despite facing protests and fierce criticism over Armenian forces' defeat to Azerbaijan in six weeks of fighting late last year.

Mr Pashinyan's Civil Contract party took 53.9 per cent of votes, well clear of the Armenia Alliance of former president Robert Kocharyan on 21 per cent, in an election that was held early in a bid to end months of political tension.

The former journalist and anti-corruption campaigner said he would lead a new government backed by at least 71 deputies in Yerevan’s 105-seat parliament, even as Mr Kocharyan’s party claimed the election was marred by serious fraud.

“The people of Armenia made their decision, its meaning is clear,” declared Mr Pashinyan (46), who came to power in 2018 following mass protests against the alleged graft and cronyism of a political old guard that includes Mr Kocharyan.


National unity

“I thank all the citizens of Armenia who went through these difficult tests, and we found each other again . . . and now we will restore national unity,” he added.

“We will take steps to rally representatives of business, culture and science around the government to solve the problems faced by our country. The dictatorship of the law and rights is our mandate . . . and we will implement this mandate as soon as possible.”

Analysts said voters’ mistrust of Mr Kocharyan, Armenia’s president from 1998-2008, and other members of the country’s longstanding political and business establishment proved stronger than widespread public anger over defeat to Azerbaijan in and around the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

About 5,000 people died in fighting that ended with a Russian-brokered ceasefire last November, which returned most of Nagorno-Karabakh to Baku’s control more than 25 years after it was seized by its ethnic Armenian majority.

Ceasefire deal

Critics accused Mr Pashinyan of betraying the nation by accepting the ceasefire deal, but he says it was vital to save the lives of Armenian soldiers and only represents a halt to fighting, not a final agreement on Nagorno-Karabakh’s status.

“I want to wish our region peace. Stability, peace in the region, peaceful development for our people – this is our priority,” said Mr Pashinyan, who was congratulated by Arayik Harutyunyan, leader of the areas of Nagorno-Karabakh that are still under ethnic Armenian control.

Western observers gave the election a broadly positive assessment, but members of Armenian Alliance disputed the results and spoke of a possible appeal to the constitutional court.

“They are in stark contrast to the various manifestations of public life we have witnessed over the past eight months, to all the results of public opinion polls . . . and to common sense,” the opposition bloc said in a statement, while claiming to have seen signs of “systematic, pre-planned falsification of the election results”.

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe