Armenia’s new leader faces big risks

Saudi Gazette, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Armenia’s new leader faces big risks

There is an historic irony that popular revolutions so often germinate the seeds of their own failure. The unreasonably high expectations generated among the protestors can quickly undermine their victory. When in the face of mass protests a government finally abandons the attempt to stay in power, the crowds are ecstatic. But their triumph does not bring about change overnight. And toppling the leaders of an unpopular regime by no means guarantees that their bureaucracy, their corrupt structures and perhaps most importantly, their security apparatus will dissolve as well. Indeed, a country always needs its officials, police and army, even if they have been tainted with payola.

Thus the euphoria in Armenia at the victorious end of some three weeks of peaceful protests against an unpopular government needs to be viewed with some caution. In imitation of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Armenia’s Serzh Sargsyan had completed his maximum two five-year terms as president and been selected by legislators of his Republican Party to become prime minister. Constitutional changes that Sargsyan had made gave the premier far greater powers. But Armenia has been stained and stunted by almost endemic corruption. Wealth went to the leaders of the regime and the elite who clustered around it. For most of the three million people in the country, life was hard and unemployment had risen to more than 19 percent.

The man who led the angry crowds that forced regime change is Nikol Pashinyan, a 42-year-old journalist who earned fame for his exposés of corruption, and along the way, also being jailed for his efforts. A scruffy, buccaneering figure, Pashinyan does not lack charisma. But he clearly lacks any political experience. The message he gave his enthusiastic supporters was that he was going to introduce transparency into government and stamp out corruption. But this is surely going to be far easier said than done. He may have acquired the office of prime minister, but his power will be dependent on the cooperation of officials and politicians, many of whom have some sort of vested interest in protecting the very corruption against which he is committed.

An AP reporter was told this week by a jubilant Pashinyan demonstrator that now jobs would appear and corruption would disappear. Yet the new premier seems well aware of the challenges of change. He has wisely vowed that there will be no pogrom of former regime figures. But if there is no exposure of venal individuals, how easy will it be to stem the corruption that has distorted this country?

Perhaps Pashinyan can get help from the international Armenian community, which remarkably numbers almost three times more people than Armenia itself. In the last decade significant flows of Armenians have been quitting the country for far better opportunities abroad. Pashinyan needs to get back these people and their skills. He also needs financial and moral support from members of the Armenian diaspora, which they call the “Spyurk”. Landlocked Armenia with its tiny market is not an obvious investment location, even for wealthy expatriate Armenians. But without strong injections of outside money, talent and positive, active encouragement, Pashinyan’s new government is likely to face insuperable problems. His supporters who exulted in their bloodless victory on the streets of the capital Yerevan may yet be doomed to see their high hopes shattered.

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