Youths, allies, and technocrats: Who does the new Armenian government consist of?
Nikol Pashinyan was appointed as [Armenian] prime minister [by parliament], to put it in Armenian, as Armenian "varchapet", on 8 May and he immediately started forming the cabinet. It is worth to focus more attention on the composition of the Pashinyan cabinet, because it is quite indicative of what Pashinyan now regards as his objectives.
Members of the Pashinyan cabinet can be divided in several groups.
Pashinyan's close companions from the Civil Contract [Armenian: Kaghakatsiakan Paymanagir] party and the Take a Step [Armenian: Kayl Ara] movement are members of one group. These are the people, who effectively travelled together with Pashinyan the road that started with the first meeting in [Armenia's second largest town of] Gyumri on 31 March and ended in his appointment as prime minister on 8 May. These are mostly young people with good education and experience of political struggle, which is incomparably larger than their age, but is minimal as regards governance. However, many regard the lack of experience of working in corrupt government structures as positive rather than negative. At least now, this is the situation.
The oldest representatives of this group are First Vice Prime Minister Ararat Mirzoyan, 38, and Education Minister Arayik Harutyunyan and the youngest is Diaspora Minister Mkhitar Hayrapetyan, who turned 28 now.
In whole, these are the people, who new approaches and new visions in management are expected from.
These appointments cause particular admiration among Pashinyan's young activists. For example, one of the newly-appointed officials, 30-year-old Eduard Aghajanyan [chief of prime minister's staff] was known not only as a political activist, but also as a good DJ and manager of an underground techno-club.
A second group comprises representatives of parties allied with Pashinyan, including the Yelk [Way out] faction. They include parties such as Bright Armenia [Armenian: Lusavor Hayastan] and Republic as well as ministers from the parties that supported Pashinyan in the election – [Armenian Revolutionary Federation -] Dashnaktsutyun and Prosperous Armenia [Armenian: Bargavach Hayastan].
At the beginning, all these parties avoided contacts with the movement shaped under Pashinyan's leadership and Dashnaktsutyun was even a junior partner of the ruling Republican Party [of Armenia – RPA]. In spite of this, they unambiguously supported Pashinyan at the decisive moment such as prime minister's election and formed a united front against the Republicans. However, in the long run, Pashinyan and his allies may take different paths. This is particularly true of Prosperous Armenia and Dashnaktsutyun.
The last and third group of ministers comprises so-called technocrats, in other words, representatives of bureaucracy, who worked in government structures in the times of the Republicans, but were not members of the RPA.
Among the latter is the personality of Police Chief Valeri Osipyan, which gave rise to heated debates. Under the "old regime", Osipyan was deputy Yerevan police chief and in this capacity, was responsible for the "work" done at the opposition's protests. Osipyan was distinguished with his negative behaviour and, in the opposition's opinion, was one of the most odious policemen. Therefore, his appointment found ambiguous reaction among the public, including Pashinyan's supporters.
Pashinyan himself justified the appointment, saying that Osipyan was one of the few non-corrupt policemen and, at the same time, he did not belong to any "clan" under the previous regime.
At the same time, Pashinyan substantiated his decision, pointing to Osipyan's appointment as a symbol of reconciliation between different segments of Armenian society and the need to forget the past once and for all. Many joked that Pashinyan and Osipyan became allies during protests, when the former had to negotiate with the latter.
Relations with the Eurasian Union
Back before becoming prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan used to tirelessly repeat that Armenia was to pursue a balanced and multi-vector foreign policy. The appointment of the foreign and defence ministers is indicative of precisely this approach. According to the new government, they are two "veterans": Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan is former deputy foreign minister and Armenia's former representative in the United Nations and Davit Tonoyan is former defence minister, who was also in charge of the Ministry for Emergency Situations. Incidentally, both have significant experience of working with Euro-Atlantic structures.
Mnatsakanyan was the main negotiator on issues of the Association Agreement with the EU and Tonoyan was representative of the Armenian Armed Forces in Nato. However, at the same time, both are figures more or less acceptable also to Russia.
Mnatsakanyan has been Armenia's representative in the United Nations over the past few years. Armenia has often voted in coordination with Moscow there. Tonoyan graduated from the Military and Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Federation. Correspondingly, both ministers fully correspond to Armenia's multi-vector foreign policy.
Anyway, it is clear that foreign policy priorities are shaped at the level of the head of the executive branch, not ministers. In this regard, the 14 May summit of the [Russian-led] Eurasian Economic Union [EEU] in Sochi was particularly important for the future of the new government.
The forthcoming summit was much spoken about not only in Armenia, but also in Russia and other EEU countries. Before his visit to Sochi, Pashinyan gave an interview to the Russian Rossiya 24 TV station and repeated all the messages Moscow expected to hear from him. As a bonus, he even added that he liked films "about war".
He behaved in the same manner at his meeting with [Russian President] Vladimir Putin, too, at any rate, during the several minutes Pashinyan and Putin spent in the presence of journalists.
Putin presumably wanted to shape his own vision of who the new Armenian leader was and it was important for Pashinyan to show that despite the lack of experience in international relations, he was not at a loss at his meeting with the "most powerful leader".
There is little open information about what Putin and Pashinyan specifically discussed behind the closed doors. However, given the reactions that followed, nothing special happened there.
Pashinyan's meeting with [Belarusian President Alyaksandr] Lukashenka proved to be most emotional, which was to a certain extent unexpected, given the fact that relations between Armenia and Belarus were regarded as problematic in the past due to Minsk's relations with Baku.
Lukashenka radiated positive energy with his interlocutor, which probably left Pashinyan surprised, although he seemed to be no less excited.
In general, it can be said that the summit was good for Pashinyan. He did not have any particular achievements, but there was no visible failure either.
For the exception of his meeting with Lukashenka, the most conspicuous episode of the aforementioned visit of Pashinyan, was his visit to the Armenian church in Adler [town near Sochi].
Local Armenians extended a warm welcome to Pashinyan, turning his visit to the church into an improvised rally. The Adler episode showed that no matter how hard Pashinyan may try to show his benevolence to other leaders of the EEU, the nimbus of a "revolutionary leader" will accompany him for a long time to come.
On the one hand, this is his capital, which can be converted into power in foreign policy, but on the other hand, Pashinyan's "revolutionary past" means that other leaders of the EEU will not recognise him as "their man".
Domestic policy: How to stop permanent revolution?
Anyway, Pashinyan has everything under his control on the foreign policy front. Domestic political situation causes more concern. The active phase of the revolution ended, when prime minister was elected, and the period that may prove to be extremely dangerous for the revolution started. It is the situation, where the old system no longer works, although it has not been completely destroyed, and no new system has taken shape yet. At the same time, the new government is now responsible for what may happen. Great expectations, which people link to Pashinyan, adds to this.
Of course, it is unrealistic to see any important achievements over the several days since Pashinyan's coming to power, particularly as the RPA still has a majority in parliament. The Republicans do not seem to be ready to agree to early parliamentary elections and are ready to approve the new government's programme in order to avoid dissolution of parliament.
Formally, this is going to be Pashinyan's victory, but in practice, this may have a negative impact on the law-making activities: Reforms are necessary in the law-making body, but Pashinyan does not have a majority. In addition, representatives of the "old regime" continue to hold significant posts in various spheres of governance, starting with Yerevan City Hall and ending with the Prosecutor's Office and courts. It becomes obvious that Pashinyan will have to fight to pursue his policy.
In addition to the danger from the "right" in the shape of Republicans, a danger from the "left" also awaits Pashinyan. Local protests are continuing throughout the country and they may spiral out of control. The agenda of the protests has been outlined: They start from specific demands at enterprises or agencies and ends with political demands such as resignation of the Yerevan mayor and the release of political prisoners.
Pashinyan was particularly concerned about the problem of the release of political prisoners. On the one hand, he cannot satisfy this demand within the frames of the law. On the other hand, he faces the danger of losing support from some activists.
The problem of "Sasna Tsrer fighters", participants in the attack on a police compound in the summer of 2016, is particularly sensitive. Society's attitude to them is ambiguous. Many regard them as "political prisoners", who must be released immediately, or moreover, heroes fighting against the regime. However, they are criminals, who deserve imprisonment, for others.
So far, Pashinyan has efficiently neutralised such dangers. He urged on 17 May to stop all protests and submit more substantiated demands to the government.
A day earlier, he spoke about the problem of political prisoners and explained that they should be released legally, as pressure on the judiciary system was going to create a very dangerous precedent.
Protests stopped due to Pashinyan's arguments, at least for now.
It can be said that as of now, the most visible achievement of Pashinyan and his team is a new form of relations with the public. Pashinyan himself talks with the public live on the air on his Facebook page at least once a week. Some of his ministers also do the same. All of them actively communicate with the media and respond to criticism in social networks.
A photo of the new education minister, [Arayik Harutyunyan], going home after work by the metro, was disseminated in social networks. Pashinyan and ministers walk in the streets and give interviews. They also found time to attend the wine festival held in the streets, where everyone made selfies with the new cabinet.
The government also put forward the initiative of reducing the number of official cars.
All this makes a big impression on Armenian citizens, who became accustomed to the government's being isolated from society for decades and not agreeing to dialogue. However, sooner or later, the public will demand tangible results from the government in addition to their being accessible.