Armenia’s former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Prosperous Armenia Party (PAP) MP Vartan Oskanian made a remarkable entry on his Facebook account after the parliamentary majority voted to strip him of his parliamentary immunity and allow his prosecution on embezzlement charges.
Oskanian noted that the ruling party lacked the courage to allow a parliament that would be a counterweight to the executive branch during the May parliamentary elections.
This kind of situation is now a reality in neighboring Georgia where people went to the polls on Sunday to favor the Georgian Dream opposition bloc as the next dominant force in the next legislature, preferring it over the ruling party of President Mikheil Saakashvili. Despite it being a surprise to the current head of state, Saakashvili did not wait for the formal announcement of the election outcome, acknowledging Georgian Dream’s victory and declaring that he is becoming an opposition.
“In fact, there is a political counterbalance in Georgia – the president is from one party, the legislature and the government will soon be in the hands of another party. Thus, in political terms, Georgia has moved another 10 steps ahead of us,” wrote Oskanian, stressing that his main criticism of the government during the recent election campaign regarded the “political monopoly” in Armenia, something that may have lead to the “monopolist” power stripping him of his parliamentary immunity on Tuesday.
The problem of the political structure of Armenia and Georgia is a key to the future of these South Caucasus countries. Often it is rightly linked with the foreign policy orientation of these states, but in fact, the foreign policy is derivative from the internal structure, from who and how decisions are made and what part of the society participates in decision-making and what mechanisms exist for electing decision-makers.
In this sense, Georgia has proved that decisions are made by the majority, but the minority, too, is entitled to influence decisions.
By depriving Oskanian of his parliamentary immunity, Armenia has proved the opposite. It has proved that the country has a strong monolithic power through which the President can have any decision passed through the parliament.
Four out of six factions in the Armenian National Assembly, namely the PAP, ARF Dashnaktsutyun, the Armenian National Congress (ANC) and Heritage, opted out of Tuesday’s vote on Oskanian’s status. They sought to scuttle the vote by influencing the quorum, but the ruling Republican Party of Armenia, which alone holds more than half of the seats in the 131-member body, and its coalition partner, Orinats Yerkir, once again proved that they can make decisions without considering the opinion of the other 40 percent of lawmakers. And it became apparent that the majority will make decisions on major foreign policy issues.
Oskanian says that during the parliamentary election campaign insisted on the PAP’s becoming a political counterbalance to the presidential power. The Armenian National Congress (ANC), too, had the slogan of “breaking the monolith of power”. That was exactly what ANC leader Levon Ter-Petrosyan used to explain his intention to cooperate with PAP – an attempt to break the unity of the authorities.
Such a system has long been in place in many Western countries, where two or three major parties, one after another, appear in the executive and legislative branches, restraining each other and stimulating good decision-making. In former Soviet countries, where for decades a one-party system was in place, the process of developing the culture of transferring power after elections and joining the opposition is a difficult one.
Experts argue that the foreign spin doctors who are said to have created a two-party system of counterbalances in Georgia may try to do the same in Armenia during the upcoming presidential elections. It is not known who will be the candidate to challenge the majority of President Serzh Sargsyan. But all indications lead to the second president of Armenia, Robert Kocharyan, or one of his charismatic supporters, Oskanian.
The Office of the second president promised to make a statement about the developments around Oskanian, and many expect that Kocharyan may declare his intention to run for president again. After becoming a defendant in a criminal case Oskanian is unlikely to be able to become a candidate in the presidential election. And now Sargsyan will have to find legal grounds to prevent the nomination of Kocharyan.
Meanwhile, the United States has, in fact, warned Armenian authorities against “foul play” through a statement released by its embassy in Yerevan in connection with the parliamentary decision to strip Oskanian of his parliamentary security.
“We have been following the legal case against former Foreign Minister Oskanian carefully and are very concerned by recent developments,” the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan said on Tuesday. “We hope that this case does not represent a politically motivated and selective enforcement of Armenian law, as this would detract from efforts to promote greater transparency and reform in the legal, justice and legislative sectors in Armenia.”