A Presidential Power Struggle

Another student guest post, this one describing some of the critiques of Armenia’s semi-presidential system.

As a semi-presidential system, Armenia’s parliament, was originally meant to be able to check the power of the executive branch. However, as their 6th presidential election comes to a close, Armenia has found itself caught between democracy and executive power. The constitution, implemented on 5 July 1995, gives an almost alarming amount of power to the president.  The president appoints both the prime minister and cabinet, and also has the ability to dissolve parliament if he so chooses. In the hands of a shrewd political leader, such as Sargsyan has proven himself to be, Armenia’s chances of becoming a successful democracy fade.

Re-elected less than a month ago Serge Sargsyan continues to ride a wave of power that he began consolidating all the way back in the late 1970’s. Rising from humble roots, Sargsyan was a metal turner until 1979, when he became a Division Head at the Stepanakert City Communist Party Youth Association Committee. From there he continued to rise and today, he is Armenia’s third president.

While President Sargsyan’s past as a communist party official offers clues as to why democracy may be failing, a more interesting, and instrumental part of his past is his connection to the military.

One of the first heads of the current Armenian armed forces, Sargsyan had considerable support when his career turned political. While serving in the army, he was head of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic Self-Defense Forces Committee, and went on to become Minister of Defense. Advocating harsh military strikes, he played a large role in changing the regional perception of Armenia when he supported the Kholji massacre.  His strategy of taking an aggressive stance has long been in his political playbook. By the time he ran for President ,he was already a highly visible figure. Entering into the race in2008, after already serving as Prime Minister, he won with 52% of the popular vote. However, the election was shrouded in controversy. As many Armenians do not vote, Sargsyan’s true popularity is unknown, but the supposed coup shortly after his election, along with the wide-spread violence was a sign that not all was well. Despite the violence, Sargsyan solidified his political power controlling votes in parliamentary elections, as well as positioning himself for re-election next term.

In 2013, it was no surprise when Sargsyan was re-elected for another five years, supposedly winning a 59% majority. With the powerful Republican Party of Armenia at his back, there is little debate over Sargsyan’s influence on the outcome. The RPA has considerable clout and has been known to coerce votes through threatening state jobs. Along with the suspicion of influencing voters, it also important to note the eerie lack of political competition in the race. Sargsyan may have won the election, but that doesn’t directly translate to a win for Armenia.



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