Peculiarities of Democratization in Post-soviet Armenia, Part 2

Read the first part at first.

In the context of the interconnectedness between the soviet past and subsequent liberalization we have presented in our latest analysis those peculiarities of post-soviet transformations, which impede the transition from political authoritarian system to a democratic one. In the post-soviet region political modernization was being conducted simultaneously in all spheres of social life, despite the absence of sufficient prerequisites. Taking into account the consistent patterns of democratization in post-soviet region, let us make an attempt to present the outcomes and the issues of the mentioned process.

In essence, any system transformation should have ideological and value basis to be successful.  The policy of Perestroika adopted by the soviet leadership, and freedoms in political and economic spheres were initiated to keep silent mass unrests, to suppress the tension presenting danger to the system, and to preserve the system, which had no value inclinations of changes. And, naturally, the amendments “from above” could not bring about positive results. Inconsistent liberalization in soviet republics resulted in the burst of frozen and accumulated problems, which demonstrated themselves as a chain reaction in all the spheres of public life leading to the tension of existing controversies and conflicts. In case of Armenia it was demonstrated in the form of mass ethnic cleansing and exodus of Armenians launched in NKAO (Nagorno Karabakh Autonomous Oblast) and, which boosted the movement of seceding from Azerbaijan and uniting Armenian Socialistic Republic.  As a result, Artsakh movement and Artsakh issue played pivotal role in the processes which preceded and followed the independence of Armenia.

The start of the process of democratization: the formation of multiparty system

The prerequisites for the formation of multiparty system, one of the main components of democracy, existed in Armenia during the parliamentary elections in the May of 1990, since Pan-Armenian National Movement, formed on the basis of “Karabakh” committee systemizing the Artsakh movement, became the political force leading independence and was given an opportunity to take part in the elections of the Supreme Soviet. There was an all-out struggle for destroying authoritarian soviet authority. PANM managed to constitute majority in the Supreme Soviet and after a year Levo Ter-Petrosyan, the leader of the movement, won in the first presidential elections and became a president.

Despite the total liberalization of parties after gaining independence in 1991, PANM gained monopoly, which was conditioned by:

First, the Artsakh movement was the driving force of the independence and secession from the USSR, the functions of organizing and leading of which were implemented by Karabakh committee, and then PANM. So, the main challenges of the state were the process of independence and victory of Artsakh movement, and the ideological basis of ongoing social-political processes was joint and universal. As a result, after the independence PANM became the dictating power in the political arena as prominent force which had led the mentioned processes.

Second, for decades soviet authoritarian orders dominated in the country, during which democratic institutions and traditions did not exist at all. Accordingly, dominant governance and alienation of others did not seem extraordinary in the lifestyle and social memory of people.

Third, the existence of one-party system did not give birth to unrest in the society, because the ruling PANM enjoyed the love and trust of the population and had high level of legitimacy.

Thus revolutionary forces came closer to putting an end to the soviet regime and the formation of new elite. There was a need to centralize the forces, to work out and implement the course of development, but the scenario developed in another way. In this sense, it is apt to cite the speech of S. Sanisteban on the inter-elite gap and fragmentation: “After the fact when the rebels seize the ruling levers of state apparatus, very often differences arise among revolutionary leaders on the subsequent course. These differences may transform into inner struggle, where the destinies of failed leaders can differ: they can go to uncertainty, be exiled, die and continue struggle against the new regime. For this reason it is often said that revolution eats its own children”.

In this sense, the differences among leadership in the following years of PANM rule (the controversies between Levon Ter-Petrosyan and Vazgen Manukyan) resulted in the division in the inner situation of the party. The precedent played a pivotal role in the further development of political system and now is demonstrated among different political forces of the political arena.  And the parliamentary elections of 1995 and presidential elections of 1996 accompanied by mass electoral breaches and following post-electoral confrontations between the authorities and the opposition, influenced negatively the process of democratization and the establishment of multiparty system. Gradually developing political crisis reached its culmination when the sharp controversies on the different ways of solving Karabakh issue among the different branches of power ended by the resignation of president Ter-Petrosyan (however, the fact of resignation testifies about the existence of some democratic elements).

Indeed, the political processes in the first years of independence created a deadlocked situation for the democratization of the society. The elite which had fought against soviet authoritarian regime and came into power, gradually limited the political freedoms and the possibilities of forces’ free competition, and aimed at the maintenance and reproduction of power instead of establishing democratic institutions. The ruling elite of independent Armenia created such problems against which it struggled years ago.

Incomplete democracy

What are the reasons for such a regression of democratization? The reasons are to be found in the interconnectedness of one of the three spheres of social life: politics, economics and right.

The format of soviet economic relations was transmitted to the new regime, which was demonstrated in the form of centralizing the mighty levers of economic influence in the hands of ruling elite, which brought about the formation of monopolies. The fusion of political power and economic arena should enhance the power of the regime and provide basis for its reproduction. The reason was the fusion of political and economic capital.

As a result, economic entities having mutual relations with the authorities, benefiting from privileged conditions, exploit the principles of competitive economic relations, conduct their tax responsibilities incompletely, and the deficit of budget is supplemented at the expense of increasing citizens’ tax responsibilities, or bring about the deterioration of living standards, including different problems stemming from them. And the possession of power levers enables to adapt the apparatus of judicial regulations and responsibility to their interests.

One of the major obstacles to the efficacy of the democratization of political system is corruption. The incarnation of corruption in the post-soviet period directly stems from soviet past. Social orders of soviet system, particularly the absence of private property and the nationalization of the whole resources, automatically formed the psychology of robbery. This psychology was transmitted to the post-soviet Armenian society, where administrative levers are used to satisfy personal interests and needs, official position is perceived not as a responsibility, but a means of improving personal material prosperity, which is realized in the conditions of the absence of accountability and responsibility. As a result, political elite of Armenia is dived in corruption.

As socio-economic and political modernization develops in a wrong way, the declared liberal economic relations do not contribute the increase in life standard, democratic reforms appear in a static skid, and the governing elite is deleted from the broad masses arising a gap in authority-society dialogue, social masses become disappointed and feel isolated from electoral processes, because political broad freedoms and the abilities of influencing ongoing processes are restricted.

The dark sides of the establishment of multiparty system

The impeding factors for the formation of multiparty system are conditioned by presidential and semi-presidential models of governance. In essence, the appearance of powerful presidential model in the transient society from authoritarianism to totalitarianism is natural, because the gradual evolution of political and ideological values should lead to the perfection of state administration. The incarnated culture of one-party administration brings about powerful political leaders, from which the existence of mighty institution of president derives.

The political arena of the country is fragmented, and the existing environment hampers the formation and development of real multiparty system. Besides, the development of multiparty system is unrealistic in a country which falls short of sufficient prerequisites. In our case the absence of the culture of parliamentarism is conditioned by the historical past, e.g. the absence of state.  In the first republic the culture of parliamentarism did not develop: ARF achieved monopolistic authority in a two-year period of independence, and during the soviet period it could not simply develop, so in the third republic the existence of problems connected with multi-party and other democratic issues system is not exciting.

In the history of independent Armenia the issue of power has been always solved by the presidential elections. With the constitutional amendment of 2005 the head of the state was the president, which was dominant office in the governing system.

In case of semi-presidential system the formation of authorities is based on the two all-out elections, when the president is to have stable majority in the legislative body, which ensures the activities of the president and the government formed by him. Consequently, when the president does not represent or enjoy the support of the force having majority in the parliament, a crisis among the leadership and the impossibility of making decisions would be inevitable. Taking into account the high level of individualization of political life, the competition between parties is seen as a competition between leaders. As an aftermath, parliamentary elections indirectly define the results of presidential elections.

In case of natural political relations the constructive competition between the authorities and the opposition is one of the guarantees of political system’s normal activity in electoral and post-electoral processes. Free competition is one of the axes of political struggle in democratic political systems, when the opposition is enabled to be included in political struggle without restrictions and external threats, where all can maximally use their resources to achieve success.  In this struggle the choice of majority remains an absolute value for all parties. So, if free competitive conditions are ensured in the political arena, the opposing forces could impose a serious threat to the authorities. Taking into account the fact that some elements of authoritarian culture remain dominant in the societies of “running modernization”  manifesting latently under the cover of democracy, and the ruling elite seeks for reproduction, healthy political competition is abolished, and all the spheres of public life become controllable.

If we try to summarize the given processes from the angle of “competition” and “participation”, which are the main dimensions of political regime advanced by Robert Dahl, we can note the process of democratization in Armenia faces the following restrictions:

  • The restriction of participation among political elite, when the party is subject to fragmentation, and the participation within the party is restricted resulting in secondary and isolated actors, the main aim of which is to enhance the dominance of a leader.
  • Isolation of some actors from the process of making decisions, when those elements having other stances are isolated for the straight implementation of the adapted political course and the enhancement of leader’s positions, which gradually resulting in the increase in the influence of political marginals, forces the incumbent regime deter not only other forces, but also the political participation broad masses.
  • The dominance of non-formal institutions while making political decisions, when existing non-formal procedures have a substantial influence on making important political decisions.

Such manifestations in the political system are intrinsic to authoritarianism, but simultaneously some level of self-government, absence of the restrictions of civil rights and freedoms testify the fact that the formation of “elite community” brought about hybrid regime and “delegative democracy”, which is an implementation of authoritarian monopolistic power under the cover of democratic institutions and procedures.

Democracy as a social order is unable to enhance solely by the establishment of appropriate institutions and by the appearance of leaders labeling themselves as carriers of democratic values, when necessary basis of value system are absent.

According to the theory of J. Linz and A. Stepan, democratic consolidation presupposes profound changes at least in three levels: behavioral, value, constitutional. It is possible to achieve when:

  • There are no influential political groups in the political arena attempting to undermine the democratic regime or carry out regression.
  • Democratic procedures and institutions are viewed as more acceptable mechanisms of regulating social life by the public
  • Political actors adapt to the fact that all social confrontations are regulated according to the laws, procedures and institutions validated by democratic process.

By the definition of Karozers, delegative democracies have some features of democratization, at least limited political space for opposing political parties and independent civil society, regular elections and democratic constitutions. However, they are characterized by weak representation of interests, low level of political participation even not transcending the scopes of voting, frequent breaches of laws by officials, the doubts on the legitimacy of elections, almost total absence of trust towards state institutions and stable low efficacy of state.

In such conditions any person coming into power attempts to enhance and maintain his power by any means, and in cases of threats limit the chances of competition making the social and political life more than controllable.


  1. Մարգարյան Մարիամ Մամիկոնի: Քաղաքական արդիականացման և զարգացման հիմնահարցեր: Պատասխանատու խմբագիր Գ.Հ.Սաֆարյան, Երևան, «Պետական ծառայություն», 2004:
  2. McFall M., The Forth Wave of Democracy and Dictatorship. Noncooperative Transitions in the Postcommunist World, World Politics, 2002, January.
  3. Карозерс Т., Конец парадигмы транзита, Политическая наука, 2003, №2.
  4. https://www.academia.edu/30870107/ОСОБЕННОСТИ_ПРОЦЕССА_ДЕМОКРАТИЗАЦИИ_ПЕРЕХОДНЫХ_ОБЩЕСТВ_методологический_анализ


Author: Hayk Sahakyan. © All rights are reserved.

Translator: Khachik Makyan


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