Armenia’s prime minister wins sweeping majority in election

Nikol Pashinyan led mass protest movement that forced resignation of longtime former leader

 Nikol Pashinyan is a former newspaper editor who was jailed for fomenting unrest in 2008. Photograph: Karen Minasyan/AFP/Getty Images

Nikol Pashinyan is a former newspaper editor who was jailed for fomenting unrest in 2008. Photograph: Karen Minasyan/AFP/Getty Images

 

Armenian prime minister Nikol Pashinyan consolidated a strong mandate for the revolution that swept him to power this year as his party won a sweeping majority in early parliamentary elections held on Sunday.

Mr Pashinyan’s My Step party garnered 70.5 per cent of the vote as the majority Republican Party, whose leader he ousted, failed to clear the 5 per cent barrier to win seats.

The vote cements a dramatic year for the former Soviet republic of three million after Mr Pashinyan led a mass protest movement that forced longtime former president Serzh Sargsyan to resign.

A former journalist, Mr Pashinyan (43), struck a chord with Armenians frustrated over corruption and the ruling party’s control of a moribund economy.

He has vowed to fight poverty and unemployment, end lucrative import monopolies allegedly controlled by figures close to Mr Sargsyan’s Republican Party, and crack down on corruption.

But EU election monitors said incendiary comments by Mr Pashinyan had “provoked a wave of hate speech” against the Republicans.

While he has declared his intent to transform Armenia into a western-style democracy, Mr Pashinyan has also carefully maintained relations with Russia, usually suspicious of pro-western “colour revolutions” in former Soviet satellite states.

Russia’s support is seen as crucial in maintaining Armenia’s balance against neighbour Azerbaijan, with which it has been in a technical state of war since 1988 over the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Mr Pashinyan confidently predicted his own victory before polls closed and ruled out governing in a coalition. Turnout was 49 per cent, an increase on last year’s election.

Since taking office, Mr Pashinyan has intensified his rhetoric against Mr Sargsyan’s Republican Party, which has complained that he is prosecuting former officials for political purposes.

Former president Robert Kocharyan was arrested on Friday over charges relating to the violent dispersal of protests against Mr Sargsyan’s election in 2008. Yuri Khachaturov, a prominent general, has also been charged in the same case.

After a leading Republican complained that Mr Pashinyan was interfering in the prosecutions, the prime minister snapped back: “If I was directing the prosecutions, 90 per cent of the Republican Party would be in jail, including you.”

In other appearances, Mr Pashinyan suggested that pro-Republican mayors should be “smeared on the asphalt” and said the security services should “deal with” his opponents. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018