On May 8, 2018, one day before Armenians observed Victory Day, Yerevan once again erupted in jubilation. Opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan had just been officially elected Armenia’s 15th prime minister by the country’s National Assembly, with 59 votes in favor and 42 votes against. The newly elected PM was confirmed by Armenian President Armen Sarkissian and immediately received warm congratulations from Russian President Vladimir Putin and Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili. He also spoke on the phone with Putin personally. This was a striking change of fortune from a week earlier, when the revolutionary leader failed to secure the premiership on May 1, due to the continued efforts by the ruling Republican Party to obstruct such a scenario.
Only one month ago, the prime ministership of Pashinyan would have seemed impossible. The political machine of the Republican Party still dominated Armenian politics, as it had since the late 1990s. It was the fateful decision of Armenia’s then-exiting President Serzh Sargsyan to remain on as PM that prompted Pashinyan to travel throughout Armenia on foot. Supported by his wife, Anna Hakobyan, he and others walked together in protest, from Gyumri to Yerevan. This “Take a Step” initiative signaled the start of the nonviolent April Revolution that culminated in his ascent to the prime minister’s office.
However, the drama has only just begun. Armenia faces many challenges. First among them is political reconciliation. Pashinyan has sought to “close the chapter of hatred” in Armenian politics, and it is now time for the various political forces in the country to come together for the common good. This process is absolutely essential for the new PM as he turns to governance and as he pursues the first order of business: reforming electoral law to ensure free and fair elections. In this regard, there are individuals from the former ruling party, such as the outgoing PM Karen Karapetyan, who could help Pashinyan. Karapetyan’s governing experience, his political and business ties with Russia, and his own impulses for reform are potential assets for the incoming Armenian government. Significantly, as he stepped down from office, the former PM was among the first to extend his congratulations to Pashinyan.
Another, more long-term concern for any future Armenian government is to address the country’s long-standing socioeconomic problems, a process that will likely begin after new parliamentary elections, following electoral reform. Although the revolution was immediately prompted by Sargsyan’s decision to become prime minister, the socioeconomic question was squarely at the heart of it. This question is rooted in the dissolution of the USSR, the collapse of the Soviet welfare system, and the privatization of the Armenian economy in the 1990s. Entire sectors of Armenia’s economic life are monopolized by oligarchs with monikers like Lfik Samo, who act with impunity. Jobs, once plentiful in the Soviet era, are now difficult to find, causing many to seek work abroad, primarily in Russia. Poverty throughout the country remains a major challenge.