Pashinian's Surprising Landslide Victory Defies Armenian Opinion Polls

By Ron Synovitz

Acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s party has defied opinion polls ahead of Armenia's June 20 snap elections in a landslide victory that gives it a parliamentary majority.

Pashinian’s Civil Contract party won about 54 percent of the vote compared to about 21 percent for the opposition Armenia Alliance of former President Robert Kocharian.

None of the other 20 parties and three alliances in the elections cleared the minimum threshold needed to win parliamentary seats: 5 percent for parties or 7 percent for alliances.

Since Armenia’s constitution requires at least three parties or alliances in the unicameral parliament, the Republican Party of former President Serzh Sarkisian also will take seats as the third-place finisher with just under 5 percent of the vote.

National Unity

Armenia’s early elections were called by Pashinian in an attempt to resolve a political crisis that has afflicted Yerevan since Armenian forces lost a six-week war against Azerbaijan last fall.

Pashinian noted in a June 21 Facebook post that his Civil Contract party “will have a constitutional majority” and will be able to form a government on its own.

Nevertheless, he told supporters early on June 21 that his party will start political consultations in the next few days with “all healthy parties and groups that took part in the elections in order to understand their visions on our political life and possible future consolidation of public forces.”

“I am telling you again that we will do our best to discuss the ways of consolidating all healthy public resources around our mandate and forming a national unity and national accord in Armenia that will truly be based on law,” Pashinian said.

Kocharian’s alliance said it would not recognize the results until alleged voting irregularities were addressed. But international observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said the vote had been "competitive and generally well-managed."

Political analysts say the election will not result in a reorientation of Yerevan’s foreign policy away from Russia as Armenia has become increasingly dependent on Moscow for security since the November 2020 cease-fire that ended the war with Azerbaijan.

All three forces entering the new parliament have called for closer relations with Russia in the hope of providing security guarantees and sustaining the status quo for the remaining ethnic-Armenian-populated areas of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Meanwhile, analysts say the likelihood of postelection violence on the streets of Yerevan has been reduced by the wide margin of victory for Civil Contract and instructions from Pashinian for police to avoid inflaming the situation and to refrain from using violence against demonstrators.

Faulty Forecasts

Many in Yerevan had predicted the race would be much closer than it was and that no single party or alliance would be able to secure a parliamentary majority on its own.

Yerevan-based political analyst Benyamin Poghosian told RFE/RL before the vote that Armenia was “likely to have either a coalition government or a runoff.”

That view was bolstered by Armenian pollsters in late May and early June whose research suggested a neck-and-neck race between Civil Contract and the Armenia Alliance.

A final preelection forecast on June 14 by the Armenian affiliate of the Swiss-based Gallup International Association predicted Kocharian’s Armenia Alliance would win the election with 28.7 percent of the vote compared to only 25.2 for Civil Contract.

With nearly 1.3 million of the 2.6 million eligible voters casting ballots, that Gallup International poll underestimated the number of votes that Civil Contract would get by some 50 percent.

Lusine Hakobian, a board member at the Alliance of Democracy Defenders for the Republic, suspected the Gallup International poll would be wrong. She warned in an opinion piece published by the Atlantic Council on June 19 that “the available polls ahead of Sunday’s vote lack credibility.”

Richard Giragosian, director of the independent Yerevan-based Regional Studies Center think tank, says the Gallup International affiliate in Yerevan is widely seen as “disingenuous” and “fraudulent.”

“This Armenian affiliate conducted an 800-person telephone survey using landlines, which are increasingly rare in Armenia,” Giragosian told RFE/RL on June 21. “It’s a flawed methodology.”

“There was one reliable poll in Armenia,” Giragosian says. “It was done by the International Republican Institute (IRI). Its one flaw was that it only captured public opinion until early May, so it was a snapshot in time” before Kocharian’s Armenia Alliance was founded.

Giragosian says the reliable research by the IRI and the election results show that Pashinian’s party had three advantages in winning.

“One was overwhelming support in the rural towns and villages after years of neglect from previous governments” led by Kocharian and Sarkisian, he explains. “That provided a voting surge in terms of the electoral map.”

He says another advantage was Pashinian’s ability “to garner critical swing votes from the sizeable bloc of 30 percent of eligible voters who identified themselves as undecided.”

“People in this undecided bloc voted for Pashinian in large numbers not because they like Pashinian, but because they fear Kocharian and the opposition more,” Giragosian says.

“The third and final reason for the outcome is that all of the opposition vote against Pashinian was split into four competing political parties and factions,” he says. “The opposition’s failure to form a coalition diluted and divided the anti-Pashinian vote.”

Although many had expected the vote to be a closer contest than it was, Giragosian says the results show Kocharian was “dangerously overconfident.”

As there had been in 2018 during Armenia’s last parliamentary elections, he says “there was a downside and risk to underestimating support for Nikol Pashinian.”

Giragosian concludes that the election results have “exposed the lack of credibility” of the Armenian affiliate of the Gallup International Association -- a group accused of “misusing the name” and reputation of the Washington-based international pollster Gallup, Inc.

“It has no official relationship with the Gallup polling organization that we know well from the West,” he says.

In fact, the U.S.-based Gallup, Inc. has filed lawsuits to obtain legal protection against the misuse of its brand name by affiliates of the Gallup International Association.

With more than 100 members and partners around the world, Gallup International affiliates are based in Bulgaria as well as Russia and several other former Soviet republics.

“They’ve been notoriously used by both the Kremlin and other questionable authorities in the former Soviet space” to manipulate voters and bolster the Kremlin’s efforts to regain influence in Eastern Europe, Giragosian concludes.

With reporting by RFE/RL’s Armenian Service