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 Friday, April 12 2024 15:22
Marianna Mkrtchyan

Freedom House signals decline of Armenia`s democracy score

Freedom House signals decline of Armenia`s democracy score

ArmInfo.Armenia's democracy score dropped from 3.11 points to 3.07 points. Thus, Armenia is ranked 35th on a 100-point system, The ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 1 the lowest.  This is evidenced by the data of the annual Nations in Transit2024 report by the international human rights organization Freedom House.

"National Democratic Governance rating declined from 2.50 to 2.25 due  to the executive's consolidation of power, the multiyear trend of  central authorities overreaching and impeaching opposition mayors,  and the lack of transparency in ruling party finances.  As a result,  Armenia's Democracy Score declined from 3.11 to 3.07," the source  notes.

The Executive Summary of the report notes,  in part:  "In Armenia in  2023, the most significant political processes and concerns both stem  from security issues, particularly relations with Azerbaijan and its  10- month-long blockade of the unrecognized but de facto independent  Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh (known as Artsakh in Armenia) and the  subsequent ethnic cleansing of the breakaway enclave after  Azerbaijani aggression in September. Not only have these national  security issues been Armenians' most significant concerns, but they  also have shaped the domestic political landscape, with the  opposition and large segments of the population criticizing the  government for the failures of its Nagorno-Karabakh policy. 

Attitudes among the Armenian public and government toward Russia have  significantly deteriorated, due not only to the failure of the  Russian peacekeepers deployed in Nagorno-Karabakh to resolve the  blockade imposed by Azerbaijan and address the humanitarian crisis in  the region, but also the permissive stance that Moscow was seen as  taking during Azerbaijan's attack on Nagorno- Karabakh and the  subsequent exodus of Armenians. In public perception, Russia has lost  its long-favorable position, and, in a poll conducted in December  2023, 31 percent of respondents considered Russia to pose the  greatest security threat to Armenia of any country. 40 percent said  Russia was the greatest political threat, and 51 percent said it was  the greatest economic threat. The Armenian government has effectively  frozen its activities in the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty  Organization (CSTO), accusing the alliance of failing in its  collective defense obligations towards Armenia, in addition to  alleging that Moscow was trying to stage a coup in Yerevan. Against  this backdrop, relations with Western partners, and particularly with  the European Union (EU), have warmed rapidly in 2023, especially  after Azerbaijan attacked Nagorno-Karabakh in September. However, the  EU and the United States have failed to hold Azerbaijan accountable  for its actions, even though they had drawn red lines for such a  scenario. Brussels has moved on to a tactic of supporting Armenia's  resilience by increasing support for reforms and elevating the level  of the EU- Armenian relationship, with early signs of a possible path  to EU membership on the margins of discussions.

The deterioration of the security situation only exacerbated the  political polarization in Armenia's parliament between Prime Minister  Nikol Pashinyan's ruling Civil Contract party and the opposition,  undermining meaningful dialogue on critical issues. Nevertheless,  Civil Contract's constitutional majority allows it to fast-track  reforms almost without resistance, which greenlights the government's  agenda but also bears the risks of lacking parliamentary checks and  balances, especially due to the prime minister's extensive powers  prescribed by the constitution.

In a possible indication that the existing balance of power in  Armenia's domestic politics has crystalized, Civil Contract's  approval ratings have stabilized somewhat despite the loss of  Nagorno-Karabakh and the party remains the most popular in Armenia by  far, though it falls short of enjoying the endorsement of a majority  of the population in polls. The opposition remains unpopular, failing  to attract support from voters who had been disappointed in the Civil  Contract-led political establishment that rose to power following  Armenia's 2018 Velvet Revolution. The public mood in Armenia as of  2023 suggests that the current opposition is not able to challenge  the government meaningfully: incumbents tend to hold tight to their  electorates evidenced by attempts to strengthen party structures, and  seek junior coalition partners (witness the formation of such a  coalition following Yerevan City Council elections in September),  while no alternative forces that could burst into the political scene  to attract the apathetic majority have been observed.

The Yerevan City Council elections were 2023's main event in terms of  domestic politics, and could be regarded as an intermediate test of  confidence between the previous nationwide legislative vote in 2021  and the upcoming elections in 2026.  While the opposition is known to  be stronger in Yerevan compared to most other regions, Civil Contract  still managed to gain more votes than any other party; however, it  fell far short of the threshold of seats necessary to install a  mayor. In fact, even in coalition with a minority partner-the  Republic Party-the city is now governed by a minority council. Civil  Contract also flexed its political muscle in the city councils of  smaller communities, where, in a few cases, it continued its practice  of impeaching opposition mayors using dubious tactics. The electoral  process generally received a positive evaluation from local and  international observers. However, it was also marked by the abuse of  administrative resources by the ruling party at a scale unprecedented  since the Velvet Revolution.  While one of the revolution's most  heralded gains has been the decoupling of politics from big  businesses and oligarchs, 2023 showed concerning signs of a reversal  on that front. In particular, two separate investigative reports shed  light on the lack of transparency regarding Civil Contract's sources  of funding. Even more concerning, law enforcement agencies cleared  Civil Contract of any wrongdoing, while Pashinyan apologized but said  his party had not broken any laws.  Armenia made major positive  reforms in 2023 regarding the judiciary, the police, the fight  against corruption, fiscal policy, the electoral code, education, and  territorial administration. International partners and Western  partner states and institutions endorse and support the government's  reform agenda. Civil society concerns about the inclusiveness of  reform and policymaking processes persist, while meaningful  cooperation is often limited to specific areas and depends on the  inclinations of decision-makers already in place. Though some reforms  deliver effective regulations, they often fall short of their  objectives due to poor or inconsistent implementation." 

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