BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
A new Prime Minister, snap (and clean) Elections, and an immediate Mining Moratorium, these, and in this order, are the top three things that the Republic of Armenia needs, urgently.
When I started writing this piece, the National Assembly of the RoA had, just a few hours before on May 1, failed to select a new prime minister. With only one candidate, Nigol Pashinian, the tally was 45-55, with one abstention and 4 absent.
With that, street actions increased (including a hastily – in 3 hours – organized rally I attended at Glendale’s, CA, city hall that drew some 1000 participants) and people’s ire rose. The object of that ire was RPA (Republican Party of Armenia), which had used its parliamentary majority to foil the election of Nigol Pashinian, despite seeming to have acceded to his ascendance to the position of prime minister. The next attempt to fill that vacant position will occur on May 8.
Since then, the RPA has issued a new statement saying it would back any candidate for the position that has the support of at least 1/3 of the members of the National Assembly. That translates into Nigol Pashinian. This is good news, though nothing prevents that party of “oligarchs” (the label affixed to the economic/political elites that have gained control over the country through far-less-than savory and legitimate means) from changing its position between now and May 8. Who knows what other games and gimmicks they might employ. This has led to the cessation of street actions, for now.
Remember, however, that the RPA has very rational (in the cold, calculating, political, sense of the word) reasons for preventing a successful May 8 prime ministerial election. According to the RoA constitution, if no one gets the seat on May 8, then new parliamentary elections must be held within 30-45 days. In this scenario, instead of the seemingly people-representing Nigol Pashinian, the RPA would be in control and run the election, rendering it far more likely to yield a corrupted, un-democratic, or otherwise unrepresentative result and members of parliament.
This demonstrates how fluid the situation is. Perhaps, by the time you read this, especially in print, the situation may have changed yet again.
Regardless, a new prime minister’s foremost duty must be the calling of a snap election implemented under reformed laws/regulations and run without the vote-buying that massively skewed and tainted the previous (2017) parliamentary election. This is the only legal, peaceful, and legitimate way for the country to start its long climb out of the chasm of corruption and stagnation that post-Soviet klepto-capitalism has produced. A fairly elected government is key to achieving this kind of progress.
The other urgent order of business for the new prime minister is the institution of a moratorium on all new mining activity (this includes preparations for future projects), pending reform of mining laws in the RoA, and the commencement of a comprehensive review and reassessment of current, established, ongoing mining operations. I would exclude quarrying from this moratorium, at least for now, and focus on mining that extracts and processes various metallic ores. These are the ones that tend to produce tailings (by products of mining) that are toxic to human, other animal, and plant life over long periods of time.
Two examples should be sufficient to convince any reasonable reader of the urgency of such a moratorium. Teghood/Teghoot is the most recent example of the massive risks of mining in the RoA. In January, the dam containing tailings from this copper and molybdenum mine broke and the toxic sludge flowed (and may still be flowing) into the local river system. This was presented as a mine that was doing all the right things to prevent the occurrence of such spills. This man-made disaster has been very underreported, reeking of a cover-up. Meanwhile, plans to start a gold mine at Amoolsar are moving full speed ahead. This project is being handled by a Canadian firm, Lydian, that is seemingly doing all the right things in the right way. Yet, they have conceded that in about 130 years, toxics from the mining operation will reach the water table in the vicinity. Then they will flow into Lake Sevan. If Sevan is poisoned, that could sound the death knell for Armenia. But heck, since the danger is a lifetime-and-a-half away, who cares? Right? Let that generation solve the problems that we create now. This attitude seems to prevail.
So, simply, new prime minister, new parliament, new policies governing Armenian mining (or P-M, E, and M-M). That’s what should be shouted at every rally, included in every letter/e-mail/text/other communication to any government official in any country having anything to do with the RoA. Please stay on top of these urgent matters.