Majority of Armenians Back Snap Polls, Says New Survey

By Mark Dovich

The majority of Armenian citizens “definitely” or “somewhat” believe that early parliamentary elections should be held, according to a newly-published public opinion survey. That finding directly contradicts a February 7 statement from the ruling My Step alliance claiming that “there is no demand for snap elections among the general public.” The study, conducted last month, was spearheaded by the Center for Insights in Survey Research at the International Republican Institute (IRI), a Washington-based group that bills itself as “the premier international democracy-development organization.”

According to the study, 55% of respondents reported “definitely” or “somewhat” believing that early elections should be held, while 42% reported “somewhat not” or “definitely not” believing that snap elections should take place. Breaking down responses by demographic categories and political beliefs, the poll found that support for early elections was highest among residents of Yerevan (43% of whom said elections “definitely” should be held), those who reported believing that “Armenia is heading in the wrong direction” (52%), and those who reported an “unfavorable view of the prime minister’s office” (54%). By contrast, 48% of respondents who reported believing that “Armenia is heading in the right direction” said they opposed snap polls.

The issue of holding early elections has dominated Armenia’s politics since late last year, when Armenian forces’ disastrous handling of the September-November war in and around Nagorno-Karabakh boiled over into seething discontent with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. Several prominent institutions and individuals in the country, including President Armen Sarkissian, the Armenian Apostolic Church, the National Academy of Sciences, the Armenian General Benevolent Union, and, most recently, the Armed Forces, have backed snap polls and/or the prime minister’s resignation. The Homeland Salvation Movement, a recently-formed alliance of nearly 20 opposition parties, has demanded that Pashinyan resign and an interim government of national unity take over to oversee the vote.

Meanwhile, Pashinyan and his My Step alliance, whose overwhelming majority in the National Assembly (Armenia’s parliament) has largely stymied opposition demands for Pashinyan’s dismissal, have repeatedly flip-flopped on the issue of whether to hold early elections. Late last year, Pashinyan publicly stated his openness to the possibility of holding snap polls. Within two months, though, My Step had backtracked, culminating in the February 7 statement claiming that “there is no demand” for such a vote. However, on March 1, at a large rally in downtown Yerevan, Pashinyan again said that he is open to holding early elections. As of March 11, talks over snap polls between the My Step alliance and the two opposition parties with seats in the National Assembly, Bright Armenia and Prosperous Armenia, remain ongoing.

The IRI survey suggests that Pashinyan’s government would likely win such a vote, were it to be held in the near future. In response to the question “please tell me which political party, if any, you would vote for if national parliamentary elections were held next Sunday,” the top two answers were “none” at 42% and “Civil Contract/My Step” at 33%.

Prosperous Armenia received support from 3% of respondents, while Bright Armenia, the former ruling Republican Party, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), and “17 parties” (a reference to the Homeland Salvation Movement) each received support from one 1% or less of those polled. Under the current Electoral Code, individual political parties must pass a threshold of 5% to enter the National Assembly. For political alliances, like My Step and the Homeland Salvation Movement, that threshold is 7%.

The fact that more respondents answered “none” than My Step — and that support for all other parties remains low — suggests that a potential third party could mount a serious challenge to Pashinyan’s government. Moreover, My Step’s 33% level of support in the February 2021 poll represents a massive decline from the level it once enjoyed: in a September-October 2019 IRI poll, 55% of respondents answered “My Step” when asked the same question, while only 10% of respondents said “none.” Nonetheless, My Step apparently remains Armenia’s most popular political force.

Conversely, when asked “for which of these political parties, if any, would you never vote,” the most popular answers were the Republican Party (25%), “I am against everyone else” (24%), and Prosperous Armenia (17%). 14% of respondents said “Civil Contract/My Step,” while 11% said “there is no party I will never vote for.” Those numbers suggest that opposition to the Republican Party has declined in recent years: in the 2019 IRI survey, the majority (59%) of respondents said they would never vote for the party. Still, the Republican Party seemingly remains the most unpopular political force in the country.

Among other questions, respondents were also asked if they planned on voting in the next parliamentary elections, regardless of when they are held. 82% of respondents said they “definitely” or “probably” would vote, while only 16% said they “definitely” or “probably” would not. In the most recent parliamentary election, held in December 2018, turnout did not even top 50%. In that election, My Step won more than 70% of the vote.

Respondents were also questioned about their support for term limits on prime ministers. In response, overwhelming majorities in all demographic and political belief categories answered “yes.” In total, 59% of respondents said they believe prime ministers should be term-limited. Of those respondents, 61% said two terms was an appropriate limit. Under the current Armenian Constitution, prime ministers are not term-limited.

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