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Armenia after the revolution: Opportunities and challenges

Armenia after the revolution: Opportunities and challenges
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Friday, 11 May, 2018, 12:30

After several weeks of intense protests, on May 8, the Armenian National Assembly elected Nikol Pashinyan to serve as country's next prime minister by a vote of 59-42. At the heart of this revolution was a rejection of corruption, violence, and the Republican Party of Armenia's (RPA) failed domestic socioeconomic policies and demands for greater social justice.

Over the past several weeks, Armenians have expressed a strong desire to be rid of the oligarchic system and to implement a more democratic and just system of governance. Pashinyan has spoken about making a break with the past and about the importance of rule of law, human rights, and the need to create a more equitable society, in which everyone is equal before the law. As the euphoric celebrations continue, he now faces the difficult task of developing a programme of action to address the many political, economic, and social issues facing the country (such as 18 percent unemployment; 30 percent poverty; the unresolved conflict; continuing emigration and brain drain; etc.).

Armenians are now demanding to live in a fairer, more just society, where citizens live with dignity and free from physical and economic violence. In this post-revolutionary period, there is the opportunity to radically rethink the hitherto accepted neoliberal model of development, which relied on privatisation, deregulation, and the apparent abdication by the Armenian government of its responsibilities for ensuring the well-being of its citizens.

To be clear, while knowledge of different economic and social development models and programmes can inform the formulation of development policies in Armenia, there are no readymade solutions. Policymakers in Armenia should be cautious to avoid the mistakes that occurred immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union, where policy solutions were imported and implemented without due concern for their fit with the local context. It will not suffice to say, as former Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan suggested, "let's imitate the Singaporean model of development." The Singapore model relied on the Lee thesis, named after the former prime minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, which maintains that democracy hurts economic growth and development and that authoritarian rule can be beneficial for growth. Is this the development model Armenians want - ie, to sacrifice democracy and freedom for economic growth? Or would they prefer to create an Armenian model of development? These are discussions which must be had.

While the post-revolutionary period offers opportunities, there are also many obstacles. The most obvious obstacle to change will be the RPA old guard and oligarchs, as many fear they will play an obstructionist role in upcoming days by rejecting Pashinyan's proposed programme. A key challenge will also be in addressing concerns around accountability and justice, without that process devolving into political vendettas, which Pashinyan has repeatedly said he is against.

Second, moving from being in opposition to governing means striking the right balance between making political compromises, building alliances, and remaining true to core principles. And already some question the implications of accepting the support of oligarch Gagik Tsarukyan's Prosperous Armenia Party.

Finally, last but not least, one can never exclude external intervention or interference in the country's domestic development by different actors (state and non-state). I prefer not to speculate at this juncture at what may or may not happen as much remains unclear, but in the past international organisations, such as the World Bank and IMF have played a role in shaping the current model of development through aid and loan conditionalities.

Armenia now has an historic opportunity to restart its post-Soviet path. Pashinyan intends to act quickly and decisively and many hope that he will be able to achieve his rights and justice-focused programme of action for socioeconomic and political reforms. But nothing is a done deal; soon Pashinyan is to submit his programme to the National Assembly for a vote and it remains to be seen what they will decide.