>> Robert Kocharyan, Armenia’s former president, has emerged as the main rival to PM Nikol Pashinyan in a parliamentary election on June 20, writes James Kilner
Even for Armenia’s chaotic political landscape, Robert Kocharyan has had an extraordinary six months.
JUNE 8 2021 (The Bulletin) — At the beginning of the year he was on trial, accused of corruption and the unlawful killings of 10 protesters in 2008 when he was Armenia’s outgoing president. Now, on the eve of a parliamentary election, he has emerged as the main rival to PM Nikol Pashinyan.
The June 20 election is an important one for Armenia as it will shape how the country recovers from losing a war to Azerbaijan for the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh last year. There is a plethora of candidates but analysts say that only two really matter.
Pashinyan is a former journalist who seized power in a popular revolution in 2018 but is now blamed for the disastrous six-week war that ended in November. His My Step Alliance holds 88 seats in Armenia’s current 132-seat parliament, the maximum two-thirds majority that the biggest party is allowed, and he is likely to win the most seats again but, importantly, possibly fall short of a majority.
This is where Kocharyan could come through, as he is regarded as the likely leader of a potential coalition that could form an alternative government.
It’s a remarkable turnaround for Armenia’s second post-Soviet leader. He was president between 1998 and 2008, overseeing an economic boom but also, according to his rivals, a rise in corruption. He handed over power to Serzh Sargsyan in 2008 who was then overthrown by Pashinyan. In 2019, prosecutors charged Kocharyan with corruption and the unlawful killing of anti-government demonstrators 11 years earlier, accusations which he said were politically motivated. In March this year, Armenia’s Constitutional Court agreed and threw them out.
As they say, politics in Armenia is personal.
Kocharyan has rebuilt his appeal by presenting himself as a no-nonsense hero from Armenia’s first war in the 1990s for Nagorno-Karabakh, where he was born, a competent alternative to the firebrand Pashinyan.
Pashinyan, in his election posters, styles himself as the suited establishment incumbent. He stares placidly away from onlookers, as if avoiding their gaze.
Kocharyan’s posters, by contrast, show him tieless, sleeves rolled-up, staring straight ahead. A man on a mission.
— This story was published in issue 487 of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin, on June 9 2021
— Copyright the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin 2021