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Armenian Elections 2012: Predictions and Perspectives

February 23, 2012 - Marina Brutyan - Bez kategorii

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The forthcoming parliamentary elections due to be held on May 6th 2012 in Armenia are expected to bring changes in the political scene, as a powerful oppositional force will enter the Parliament. However, no major surprises are anticipated.

In Armenia, it is obvious that the ruling Republican Party will remain in power after the election, and President Serzh Sargsyan, head of the party, is going to decide who will accompany the Republican Party in the ruling coalition.

No surprises anticipated 

There is no doubt that the country will again be ruled by a coalition government – the authorities thus show the world, and particularly the West, that Armenia is a democratic country. The main outcome of the upcoming parliamentary election will be the possible appearance of the oppositional Armenian National Congress (ANC) in the National Assembly (Armenian Parliament). This is not surprising, however, as the speculations about ANC’s possible emergence as a parliamentary opposition began at least six months ago, when Levon Ter-Petrosyan, head of ANC, initiated a dialogue with Armenian authorities.  

At first the dialogue seemed useless and produced no results. ANC, however, cancelled and resumed the dialogue from time to time. The main oppositional force wanted to play for a time while it was still engaged in talks on holding early elections [it is noteworthy that initially ANC started the dialogue for holding an off-year election, but officials completely ruled out any possibility of negotiations on this]. So, ANC had to bide its time until the next official election and then direct its efforts towards generating ideas for the election campaign.

The only question that is still a puzzle for everyone is the extent of ANC’s presence in the Parliament. This problem prompts more questions, namely – whether ANC will become a part of the ruling coalition, orPresident Serzh Sargsyan simply needs it as a parliamentary opposition force. It is possible that Sargsyan hasn’t yet decided for himself which option is more appropriate, and according to experts, the credit of the fact that ANC has admitted the Republican Party as a ruling force is due to the U.S. Embassy in Armenia and was coordinated with Sargsyan himself.

 Who is going to lose?

Last spring Armenian experts and media representatives were wondering at whose expense the ANC was actually going to enter the Parliament.  Stepan Safaryan, secretary of the parliamentary faction of the Heritage party, was among the first to speak out against this. He said members of Heritage were not going to cede their votes to ANC. Safaryan was thus referring to the Prosperous Armenia party, but some analysts say that Heritage is going to face pressure from ANC anyway.  However, it is more likely that all the parliamentary factions will have to cede their seats to ANC.

The Republican Party is the ruling force in the country with the largest representation in the government, with Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan.  As a ruling force, the party controls most of the Armenian TV stations [except for a couple of other TV channels].  Although the party can use administrative resources, it has decided to thoroughly prepare itself for the upcoming vote.

In November 2011 Hovik Abrahamyan, speaker of the Armenian parliament, resigned, declaring that “the party has offered me to manage the election campaign and so I decided to step down and get involved in the process of forming the pre-election team.”   

Asked if it wasn’t too early for this, Abrahamyan said: “It’s not early; only 5 months are left [before the parliamentary election]”. Moreover, Mikael Minasyan, First Deputy Head of Armenian Presidential Administration and President Sargsyan’s son-in-law, also resigned office. Minasyan said he was going to help Hovik Abrahamyan in properly running the election campaign.

“We are going to not only ensure the presidential party’s victory in the forthcoming elections but also foster the kind of elections from which Armenia will emerge stronger and confidently facing the future. I think these elections will mark a qualitative revolution for our country and each of us,” Minasyan told News.am.

It is noteworthy that News.am is among some dozen online media which are allegedly under Minasyan’s patronage and are financed by him.

The fate of the current coalition 

The current coalition government consists of three parties – the Republican Party, Prosperous Armenia and Country of Law. Public interest towards Country of Law died out early in 2008, when Artur Baghdasaryan, leader of the party, who stood as a presidential candidate and was accusing officials of electoral fraud after the vote, accepted their offer on cooperation on 29 February 2008 and signed an agreement of collaboration with Prosperous Armenia and Republican parties just a few days later.

After the 2008 presidential election in which Levon Ter-Petrosyan lost to Serzh Sargsyan, ANC declared the results fraudulent. The mass opposition protests that followed the election on March 1st 2008, were broken up by police, resulting in around ten deaths. 

After the presidential vote, Artur Baghdasaryan was first engaged in talks with Levon Ter-Petrosyan on joining the opposition. Baghdasaryan, however, preferred the coalition agreement and was later appointed Secretary of the Security Council, while two other members of his party shared government posts. At the moment, both President Serzh Sargsyan and the Republican Party receive strong support from Baghdasaryan’s party which has fully adapted to the role of a “younger brother”. Therefore, very few are still interested in this party, but the same cannot be said of Prosperous Armenia.

Gagik Tsarukyan, a well-known oligarch and head of Prosperous Armenia, announced during the fifth session of the party leadership last February that his party is committed to the letter and spirit of the coalition agreement aiming to put an end to the rumors that the party could pull out of the ruling coalition. Despite Tsarukyan’s efforts, speculations about the discrepancies between the Republican Party and Prosperous Armenia still remain.

In January the news came that the party's regional office in Ararat had received dozens of applications for leaving Prosperous Armenia. It turned out later that a part of the 58 applications was forged, and Vardan Bostanjyan, a member of the party's parliamentary faction, said the Republican Party was thus trying to exert pressure on Prosperous Armenia.  

The strained relations between Republican Party and Prosperous Armenia became even tenser when the latter unexpectedly supported the proposal of Heritage party and Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) on introducing fully proportional electoral system during the upcoming parliamentary polls. Not long ago, the party also voted down the government's bill in the Parliament for the first time.

On the backdrop of these events, different conclusions can be drawn, but one thing is for sure – Prosperous Armenia is going to use all the possible methods in its fight to win the parliamentary vote. The possible cooperation between the party and Vardan Oskanyan, former Foreign Minister of Armenia, might be considered as one of such measures. Oskanyan’s possible appearance in the party’s list of candidates also cannot be ruled out.

Parliamentary opposition

The oppositional force in the Armenian parliament is represented by two parties – Heritage and Armenian Revolutionary Federation [Dashnaktsutyun]. ARF, as a traditional party, embodying Armenian Diaspora’s political power, has all chances to be represented in the new parliament. The point is that the president, who has advanced the slogan of strengthening the relations between Armenia and its Diaspora, is more likely to secure the party’s presence in the Parliament.

As for the Heritage, its future is much vaguer. The party will decide whether to join the newly-formed Free Democrats party or not by the middle of March. Free Democrats was created by former ANC members who were dissatisfied with the ANC’s recent policy, and particularly with its decision to start negotiations with the government.

Still Unknown

It’s still unknown what these two parties might have in common, but they are allegedly united by the support of the U.S. Embassy in Armenia.

It is possible that fearing a decline  in the number of Heritage’s supporters, the US raced to the rescue and founded Free Democrats offering them to create a new political block on the eve of the elections. This block might serve as a fallback position for the US in case of a force majeure with ANC.

The results of the upcoming vote and the alignment of political forces in new parliament depends on a number of other factors rather than just voters, including external factors, and here the United States might play a significant role as well, since they continue their policy of strengthening the U.S. influence in the South Caucasus.

Contrary to the popular belief, Russia doesn’t have much power to manipulate with Armenia now.  Armenian authorities will remain loyal to Russia as long as they have a reliable source of subsidized loan, while Russia needs Armenia to maintain its presence in the South Caucasus. Therefore, Moscow doesn’t tie Armenia too rigidly fearing that it will look more to the West. 

Marina Brutyan is an Armenian correspondent for the Russian news agency REGNUM. She specialises in foreign policy of the Commonwealth of Independent States, particularly the states of the Eastern Partnership.

Translated by Suzanna Sargsyan

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