In an interview with Stepan Safaryan, the Head of the Armenian Institute of International and Security Affairs (AIISA) speaks about the recent appointments in the Government of Armenia, forecasts Karen Karapetyan’s term in office, and the probable distribution of forces in the parliament of the next convocation considering the outcome of the recent local elections in the country.
What do you think of the recent government staff reshuffles in Armenia?
In order to understand the logic of recent appointments in the government one should comprehend the main task given to the government. This task is to save in the shortest time possible the face of the Republican Party and restore trust towards it on the threshold of the upcoming parliamentary elections. In this light, obviously, the matter first of all concerns economic and managerial blocks of the government. These areas are currently under supervision of the newly appointed Prime Minister, who is attempting to get rid of persons hindering tax collection, tax administration etc. I think that dismissal of former Minister of Finance Gagik Khachatryan fully fits into this logic. With all his decency and high professional qualification former Minister of Economy Artsvik Minasyan was also in some way hindering Karen Karapetyan, that is why his resignation is not surprising for me. In order to reach short-term results persons, whose biography and property do not disturb society, have been appointed on the vacant posts. These persons are able to optimize and ensure efficient management of the government system in the shortest time possible.
Do you see this logic in the staff reshuffles in the national security, defense and law enforcement agencies of the government?
I do not think so. The national security, defense and law enforcement agencies of the government, as well as the foreign ministry remain under Serzh Sargsyan's personal control and the Prime Minister does not decide anything in these issues. I’d like to recall that after the April war Sargsyan realizing that losing territories was not the best outcome of the five war days for the two Armenian republics, still did not bring to responsibility any high ranking military officers or did not mention the reasons of dismissing some of them. It was also obvious that Seyran Ohanyan's dismissal right after the April war would mean admitting the defeat in that war. That is why this was done much later. At the same time I am convinced that the April war ended in a draw for its sides. As for Ohanyan, I do not rule out that previous plans remain in force and in 2018 he may take symbolic position of the country's president. In other words remaining Sargsyan's trusted person Seyran Ohanyan will remain in the list of candidates at the upcoming appointments.
After Sasna Tsrer group seized a police compound in Yerevan, it was anticipated that the police head would at least resign. Nothing of the kind has happened… This fact does not fit into the pre-election efforts to save the face of the Republicans…
First, this speaks of Serzh Sargsyan's trust in Gasparyan or, at least, the president has no alternative to him so far. In addition, the Police dispersed the revolt nearly without bloodshed and big losses.
Do you see any links between the reappointment of Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian and certain nuances in the Karabakh peace process?
Sure. There is certainly a connection between further activity of Edward Nalbandian on the post of Armenia's Foreign Minister and certain nuances of the Karabakh conflict. It was much spoken of that Nalbandian would be replaced. However, I think, the intentions to replace Nalbandian faced Moscow’s discontent. Russia does not want to start negotiations from a new point, especially now when the U.S. and Russian co-chairmanship of the OSCE Minsk Group are disputing as to whether the Vienna or the St. Petersburg arrangements should be used as a basis for the Karabakh settlement. Meantime, the St. Petersburg program implies continuation of the talks without preconditions, while the Vienna program implies creation of conditions for normal talks. In this light, Armenia would gain from appointment of a new foreign minister. However, Moscow would not like to replace the minister who has been recently awarded with a medal for strengthening of the Armenian-Russian friendship.
There are different views about the mission and the tenure the new government. What do you think about this?
I do not see Karen Karapetyan on the post of the prime minister after the parliamentary elections of 2017. The current government was formed not stemming from the domestic political factors, unlike Hovik Abrahamyan’s government that was formed taking into account the possible actions by the opposition and foreign problems of Armenia. Karapetyan’s government was formed amid total absence of domestic opposition and after the domestic political tensions generated by “Sasna Tsrer” faded away, amid absence of new threats and any forces able to present these threats. In such conditions favorable for him Serzh Sargsyan has just formed a government able to carry out the tasks given by him personally, which are in his interests. By other words, this government is transitional. The other question is that some ministers may keep their posts after elections of 2017. However, the fact that after these elections Armenia will face completely new political situation and the Republican Party will have quite other needs, for example in coalition, which means that it is transitional.
Do you forecast that the Republicans will form coalition taking into account the results of local elections in Gyumri and Vanadzor?
I think that these elections have become the best indicator of moods in the Armenian society. While the fact that 70% of voters in the both towns refused to participate in local elections testify to total distrust of the citizens towards any political force. This means that this sector of the society can demonstrate completely other behavior during the parliamentary elections if radically different political forces run for parliament. The same local elections have demonstrated the Republicans’ inability to win support of even half of 30% of voters in local elections. That is why I consider that the RPA is the most organized force, but however it is a minority. For getting the mayor’s position in Vanadzor and even in Gyumri the Republicans already need support of the “Prosperous Armenia”, “Armenian Rebirth” or “Bright Armenia”. Consequently, at this background it is quite possible that coalition will be set up basing on the results of 2017 elections, even if the Republicans manage to win relative majority in the parliament after the elections.
Don’t you think that even the future coalition may be planned? After all, the Republicans cannot remain majority forever, especially amid weak external and internal support. By the way, the RPA has both old and new but mostly predictable candidates for the role of coalition partners.
The RPA is a force, which is sick and tired of any coalition. This was most vividly evident in 2000s when they had to bear with other political forces represented in the authorities, which were a kind of foothold for Robert Kocharyan. That is why at the first opportunity the Republicans have monopolized the power. However, nowadays life itself and political processes make the RPA weigh possible coalition in parliament again. I consider this process as positive, no matter what political force will form coalition with the RPA. It is already good that the Republicans have to admit impossibility of longevity of their political monopoly on power. That is why even if there are plans for coalition they derive from the lessons of the past, as it was due to such a monopoly that RPA has been surrounded by enemies.
Once again basing on the results of the local elections in Gyumri, Vanadzor and other communities, could you try to forecast possible parties-candidates to enter next parliament?
We cannot underestimate the RPA at the moment, as it holds administrative and other resources. In case the opposition remains as disorganized as it is now, the Republicans have all the chances to win relative majority in parliament of 2017. As for now, Prosperous Armenia demonstrates possibility of gaining 10-15% of votes. Despite the fact that its representation in the future parliament will be lower than in the current one it still holds the second position. As for today the Prosperous Armenia remains the candidate No.1 for coalition with the Republicans.
I think that due to success registered in local elections in Gyumri and Vanadzor Armenian Rebirth Party may seek 5%-6% of votes in April next year. Bright Armenia has also big chances to overcome the 5% threshold, as it has demonstrated its ability to be a challenger force during the local elections. Civil Contract has played a wrong card in its strategy for local elections, however revision of the management board of the party after the elections shows that this political force develops dynamically. That is why, in my opinion, Civil Contract can claim 5% in April. As for Armenian National Congress and Heritage, their prospects are vague considering that these two parties have lost their voters without gaining new ones.