A message to Moscow from Armenians

A surprise victory for the Civil Contract party of Nikol Pashinyan reveals that Armenians see their best security in democratic values and clean governance.

A woman casts her ballot in Yerevan, Armenia, June 20.

In Russia, democracy has declined while corruption has climbed under President Vladimir Putin. That fact weighs heavily in many former states of the Soviet empire where Moscow still holds sway. The latest example was Sunday’s election in Armenia. The country’s most pro-democratic, anti-corruption party, Civil Contract, handily won over opponents that wanted closer ties with Russia.

The party’s big win was not predicted. Its leader, Nikol Pashinyan, was humiliated last year as prime minister in a war he lost with neighboring Azerbaijan over disputed territory. In April, he was forced to call an election and then become a caretaker leader. Russia had helped end the war, which allowed it to increase its military presence in the region. Its mediating role in the 44-day war was appreciated by many Armenians, leading to speculation that Mr. Pashinyan’s party would lose.

Yet his party won because of reforms in bringing greater transparency and accountability to government. The victory shows that most Armenians see democracy as a better defense of their small country of 3 million than a reliance on Russian security. In addition, they attribute their military’s loss in the war to a deep legacy of corruption.

All three former rulers since Armenia became independent in 1991 participated in the election. Yet memories are strong of former regimes that diminished democracy and supported Russian-style oligarchs. Just three years ago, a popular uprising led by Mr. Pashinyan, a former journalist, forced the ouster of one such corrupt regime and brought about the country’s first free and fair elections.

Before this election, both France and the United States seemed to support him, which may have convinced many voters not to lean toward those politicians favoring closer integration with Russia.

The June 20 parliamentary elections saw a record number of parties running. The 2018 democracy revolution has set down roots in Armenia and may help it one day escape Russian influence. Voters put a value on clean, open governance. They don’t see that in their giant neighbor to the north.

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