Armenia’s boring election
On April 2nd Armenians took to the ballots to cast their votes in a parliamentary election. It was the first vote since the recent constitutional reform which changed the country’s system from a presidential to parliamentary one. From now on, the president, whose mandate has been substantially reduced according to the reform will be chosen by the parliament for a seven-year term with no possibility of re-election.
The new constitution also establishes a new election system. Armenian citizens now choose deputies based solely on party lists. In the previous system, 41 out of 131 members of parliament were elected in single-mandate districts. The authors of the changes introduced some amendments to the proportional system. Apart from choosing a party, the citizens also had to vote for one of the party members and each party out of nine competitors prepared a list of candidates. In the end, the election process has become even more complex – each citizen in an electoral district was issued with a document with nine lists. On the first page of each document, one had to choose a party or a bloc they wanted to vote for, and then choose their candidate. For older people the system turned out to be especially confusing.
Taking fingerprints proved to be another inconvenient moment of the election. It was meant to prevent attempts of multiple voting and other fraud. Yet the system has proved to be imperfect. Not every finger print was recognised. It did not even recognise all ten finger prints of the current president of Armenia – Serzh Sargsyan. His passport was also read by the system with difficulty.
Nevertheless, the election did not bring much surprise. The biggest surprises came actually before the election when the Seyran Ohanyan, the minister for defence, was removed by the president and together with former ministers of foreign affairs, Vardan Oskanyan and Raffi Hovhannisyan, created a political bloc. Moreover, the second largest party, Prosperous Armenia, led by Gagik Tsarukyan, participated in the election in a bloc (Bloc Tsarukyan) with other small parties and movements for the first time.
Not long before the election, a number of oppositionists created a bloc called “Yelk” (“Exit”). Altogether nine parties and blocs competed in the election. According to preliminary results, 105 deputies will make up the National Assembly of Armenia: 50 per cent of them from the proportional list and 50 per cent on the basis of list ratings. For the first time, representatives of national minorities will be a part of the parliament. According to parliamentary data, the new parliament will consist of four forces: The Republican Party, with 58 deputies, Bloc Tsarukyan with 31 MPs, Bloc Elik with nine members and Dashnaktsutyun with five deputies. Three representatives of national minorities will be representing the Republican Party and one with the Tsarukyan Bloc, representing the Kurdish, Yezidi, Assyrian and Russian communities.
In their preliminary report, OSCE observers stressed that the election was organised on a high level and the basic rights and freedoms of citizens were protected. In addition, the report also made a positive note about the legal framework and the new technologies that were applied. At the same time, the report noted that there is reliable information about the selling of votes. An average price of a bribe was reportedly between 10,000 and 50,000 dram (between 20 and 100 US dollars). Nevertheless, just like previous times, observers are certain that these facts did not influence the general picture and the results of the election.
A boring election
Many independent observers have labelled the vote a “boring election”. In the pre-election agitation and after the vote nothing happened that could spark any interest in the process. For the first time in a long time, none of the losing parties spoke about the intention of leading the people to the streets and question the results of the election. As Czech expert, Erika Lerner, notes, Armenia is one of the few neighbour states of Eastern Europe where the outcome of the election is completely clear. At the same time, she stresses that the election does not allow one to see the real support division since Armenian citizens residing on the territory of foreign countries cannot take part in the vote.
Nonetheless, the Armenian political history is deprived of the tradition of debates in the classical understanding of the term. Even if we can agree that the representatives of the ruling party will be debating with their opponents, the current president, for instance, has never taken part in any debates. Thanks to the new constitution, there will be no debates before the presidential election. In 2018, the new president will be chosen by the parliament. A candidate supported by three-fourths of the deputies will serve a seven-year term.
The coalition passions
Following the election, the Republican Party of Armenia will be able to independently form a government and preserve the regime. However, in order to demonstrate pluralism and high levels of democracy in the country, the ruling party will probably sign a coalition agreement with the smallest party in the parliament – Dashnaktsutyun, for the first time in the country’s contemporary political history. While it is clear that the party will not receive the strategic ministries. Most likely representatives of the party will serve as deputy ministers in the Republican-run departments.
The main intrigue will unfold within the Republic Party, in the decision process of the allocation of ministerial posts. Clearly, the currently serving prime minister, Karen Karapetian, will retain his position. The members of the party are currently fighting for the position of parliament speaker.
The two main factors which either way are being commented on by all political forces, include the Nagorno-Karabakh issue and Armenia’s co-operation with Russia and the West. A part of the political forces support membership in the Eurasian Economic Union, while other advocate for leaving it. In terms of the Karabakh issue there is a strong consensus among the parties.
Only the first Armenian president, Ter-Petrosyan, presents a different position on the future of Karabakh. Shortly before the election he said that the Armenian side should transfer the areas around Karabakh under the control of international institutions. According to the others, such a transfer would mean the surrender of the lands controlled by Armenia. This is largely due to the fact that his bloc did not receive enough votes to make it in to the parliament.
When it comes to the Eurasian Union, the parliamentary party “Exit” unequivocally supports Armenia’s exit from the community and concluding a deal with the European Union. Notably, even after the country’s accession to the Eurasian Union, the authorities made many declarations about their readiness to sign any agreement with the European Union (in place of the Association Agreement) which would not contradict their membership in the Eurasian Union.
It is worth noting that in the past the Armenian authorities have always tried to balance between the West and Russia. Currently Yerevan is returning to this policy. Armenia recently initialled a comprehensive and extended partnership agreement with the EU. The deal is to be signed in 2017. The current Armenian president, Serzh Sargsyan, stated that the agreement does not differ much from the association agreement which Armenia had been prepared for 2013.
As noted above, political forces will not take to the streets and will not contest the results of the election. Nonetheless, protests cannot be excluded. Judging by the experience of recent years protests would have a strong socio-economic character. Most likely, the authorities will be able to turn the protests in their favour – temporarily solving the issue and calming down society for some time. Yet, the economic situation of the country, the continuous instability on the border with Azerbaijan and increased intensity of social dissatisfaction could erupt at any time with thousands of people showing up on the streets. One should not rule out the possibility of protests already by the summer of 2017 sparked by the economic situation. Armenia has seen a rapid rise in prices of basic food products while pensions and minimal salaries will not rise in the foreseeable future.
Marina Brutyan is an Armenian journalist. Between 2006 and 2012 she was REGNUM information agency’s correspondent in Yerevan. In 2011-2014 she worked as an editor of the Information Bulletin of the Centre for East European Studies, focusing on Armenia. Her articles were published by a number of magazines and websites includingNowa Europa Wschodnia, Lewica 24andEastbook. She currently works for the RussianTamozhniamagazine.