The campaign of the 6th elections of the National Assembly (NA) dated on April 2, 2017, is about to finish. Five parties took part in the election process: Republican Party of Armenia (RPA)(Arm. – Հայաստանի հանրապետական կուսակցություն), Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) (Arm. – Հայ յեղափոխական դաշնակցություն), Armenian Reneissance Party (Arm. – Հայկական վերածնունդ կուսակցություն), Armenian Communist Party (ACP) (Arm. – Հայաստանի կոմունիստական կուսակցություն), as well as four alliances: ANC-PPA (Armenian National Congress, People’s Party of Armenia) (Arm. – Հայ ազգային կոնգրես, Հայաստանի ժողովրդական կուսակցություն), “Yelq” (Arm. – Ելք, which means “a way out”) bloc, “Tsarukyan” (Arm. – Ծառուկյան) alliance, “Ohanyan-Raffi-Oskanian” (ORO) (Arm. – Օհանյան-Րաֆֆի-Օսկանյան) alliance. All of these 9 political powers, in essence, have been present in socio-political life of Armenia since its Independence. The current elections are not far the first one for the political parties or certain individuals involved in the parties, assuredly[i]. Although to get the point of parliamentary elections and the following developments one should draw parallels between the previous 5 elections. However, taking into account a number of objective and subjective reasons it is more preferable to focus on the comparison with the 1999 parliamentary elections. If the elections of 1999 exclusively claimed to decide on who the power would belong to de facto (until the constitutional reforms of 2015 this question was answered through the presidential elections) then today parliamentary elections decide whose the power is de jure already, conditioned by the change of the governmental system and the newly obtained status of the legislative body. Now, relative to the importance of the issue of who the power belongs to, the process of these parliamentary elections makes draw comparisons mainly with the elections of 1999, without avoiding to address separate episodes from the history of the Third Republic of Armenia.
Incubent power front
In parliamentary elections of 2017, the camp of the incumbents involves two parties: RPA and ARF. From 1991 to 1994 these two parties cooperated with each other, although in the second half of 1994 the RPA joined the bloc led by ANM (Armenian National Movement) (Arm. – Հայոց համազգային շարժում), and even in December, 1994, it publicly supported the temporary termination of ARF by President Levon Ter-Petrossian. Since 1995, the RPA has been in power firstly cooperating with ANM and with APP (Armenian Populist Party) from 1999 onward. In 2003 the RPA formed a coalition along with ARF and OEK (Rule of Law Party) (Arm. – Օրինաց Երկիր), in 2007 by the format RPA-PAP (Prosperous Armenia Party) – ARF, in 2008 – RPA-PAP-ARF-OEK, in 2012 – RPA-OEK, in 2015 RPA-ARF[ii].
Today number one on RPA proportional list is the Minister of Defense of the Republic of Armenia, Vigen Sargsyan, who, however, according to different analyses, is the backup of Serzh Sargsyan in the party. In 1999, the Defense Minister of the Republic of Armenia, Vazgen Sargsyan, was the actual leader of “Unity” alliance (Arm. – Միասնություն), though he yielded up the first place of the proportional list to PPA leader Karen Demirchyan. In 1999, the “Unity” alliance used the slogan “Let’s Build and Save!” (Arm. – Կառուցենք և պահպանենք) and today’s slogan of RPA is “Security and Development” (Arm. – Անվտանգություն, առաջընթաց). Semantic and even superficial perceptions hint the similarities and main targets of both slogans. During these elections, the media is flooded with analyses reading that Defense Minister (Vigen Sargsyan) if not in 2017, then in 2018 elections will become the prime minister, which is introduced as Serzh Sargsyan’s wish. In the period of the parliamentary elections of 1999, similar statements were spread about Defense Minister, Vazgen Sargsyan. Then it was quite possible that the “Unity” alliance would become a majority in the Parliament and the prime minister would be chosen from that very faction. Vazgen Sargsyan wanted Karen Demirchyan to be appointed as the prime minister since the presidential elections of 1998, which, by the way, then president Robert Kocharyan was against. Because of the prevalence օf the same moods, Defense Minister Vazgen Sargsyan was appointed as the prime minister. Noticeably, the Prime Minister of 1999, Armen Darbinyan, was deprived of a serious backing, whose party, “Decent Future” (Arm. – Արժանապատիվ ապագա), had received 3 percent of votes. Today Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan is deprived of a very serious backing. If in 1999 Robert Kocharyan was trying by all chances to keep A. Darbinyan in prime minister’s office (in a conjunctural, short-term sense), then currently the perspective of Karen Karapetyan’s stay as the Prime Minister does not seem really preferable to Serzh Sargsyan, especially conditioned by the ill will to pass on the power in the transitional period of 2018. Nonetheless, the similarity between the RPA and “Unity” alliance is artificial, limited by merely a show off aping. Obviously, in case of the victory of the RPA, no change of the prime minister will happen for a certain while first of all taking into consideration the Russian influence.
On the other wing of power stands ARF, which participated in the elections for the first time in 1999, because it was deprived of that chance in 1995. It is noteworthy that ARF was acting under Robert Kocharyan’s protection, meanwhile calling itself an opposition. The weakening and fall of ANM’s positions, which had confronted with ARF earlier, earned the ARF a high reputation automatically. With such behavior ARF had received 7.84% of votes. Succeeding October 27, 1999, ARF leaned on the authorities even more, thence always getting involved in coalitions. The only insuperable wrinkle appeared in 2009, because of the regulations of Armenian-Turkish relations, when ARF withdrew itself from then incumbent coalition mostly under the pressure of foreign structures, and came back only in 2015. It is a fact that since 1998 ARF has not had so-called principal or fundamental disagreements with the ruling officials. That kind of a rare problem referred to the certain situation of the foreign policy, while in the domestic policy harmonic cooperation was dominating, which considerably affected the rank of ARF. From this perspective, ARF perfectly shares the responsibility of foreign and domestic policies of 1999 to 2009 and 2015 to 2018. It can be stated that the reputation of ARF is noticeably shaken, and since 1890 until today it probably has had the lowest rank. Therefore, it is not surprising that the officials from ARF (ministers, regional governors, etc.) actively take part in the parliamentary campaign aiming to exceed the threshold of 5%.
The opposition field in Armenia is more varied and extensive. However, side by side with this advantage, hostility and fragmentation rule here. If defined felicitously, the authority is ready to yield something from what it has, while the opposition is unable to yield any of what it will get in the future. Regardless of that fact, the non-incumbents should be divided into three groups, the first comprising “Congress-PPA” and “Yelq” alliances, as well as “Free Democrats” party. Between 2008 and 2012, the members of these three powers had jointly organized the movement of 2008, then established “Armenian National Congress” alliance and participated in the parliamentary elections of 2012. The cooperation among most of them came from Artsakh Movement (Arm. – Արցախյան շարժում) period by far, but that cooperation was disrupted in the last years of the rule of ANM, and already in 1999 ANM party, “Homeland” alliance and “Freedom” party performed as the successors of Armenian National Movement. In essence, these parties were the closest to one another from the angle of both political past and ideological principles. In the case of the liberals, the condition is the same as of 2017: they avow the same liberal ideology, demand a fundamental revision of the Armenian foreign and domestic policy, but continue to remain split up, unable to get rid of their personal fancies and ambitions. In 1999, preferring separate candidacy, ANM got 1.17%, “Homeland” got 1.23%, and “Freedom” got 1.07% of votes. Let us hope, however, this time the picture will not be the same for ANC (Armenian National Congress), “Yelq” and FD (Free Democrats), inasmuch as without liberalism the NA will be deprived of internal counterbalance, which will greatly weaken the pillars of that main important state institution.
The second group of non-incumbents’ camp is comprised of Congress Party and OEK (Armenian Renaissance), which passed the threshold of 5% and were accepted into the Parliament in 1999. Now, nevertheless, the Congress Party is deprived of such a charismatic leader as Sergey Badalyan. That gap could have been filled through the strategy of introducing themselves as the bearers of classical left-wing ideology and making mature and contemporary socialistic proposals instead of Soviet nostalgia. Overcoming the threshold of 5% via fair political mechanisms is going to be rather difficult to “Armenian Renaissance” party alike.
If in 1999 OEK consisted of a group of educated young people who promised to bring new ideas to NA, then the past of the current “Armenian Renaissance” party is associated with the end-in-itself move of shifting from a radical opposition to a sworn incumbent in just one day in 2008, the responsibility of March 1, as well as the seal of an incumbent party from 2008 to 2014.
The third provisional group comprises “Tsarukyan” and “Ohanyan-Raffi-Oskanian” alliances, the leaders of which, Gagik Tsarukyan and Seyran Ohanyan, failed to consolidate and make true the duplicate of the “Unity” alliance of 1999. Moreover, before the elections the idea of that very alliance was being preached from the known centers hinting at the resemblance of Tsarukyan and Ohanyan with K. Demirchyan and V. Sargsyan, the former performing in the image of a constructer and builder, and the latter as an experienced strategic statesman. The external imitation of this and the “Unity” alliance would, however, essentially limp, because the alliance of 1999 was aimed against Kocharyan, whereas he would inevitably guide the alliance of 2017. Both alliances lack an ideological ground, are formed exceptionally around individuals. The mentioned is enough for the inner transformation and external mutation of the alliances to take up the uneven route of collapse if Ohanyan or Tsarukyan take a non-standard step. The reflection of such developments becomes clearer in the zugzwang of February 2015. Nevertheless, in case of “Tsarukyan” alliance it is quite possible that the scenario of 2007 will reoccur, when PAP preferred coalition government. This pre-electoral marathon of “Tsarukyan” alliance is far more like the campaign of 2007 than 2012. The chances of “ORO” alliance, as a representative of ministers’ club, are rather unsteady. From the background emerges the figure of the NKR former Defense Minister and currently arrested Samvel Babayan, who is not intruding into the political affairs of Armenia for the first time. In 1999, as the NKR Defense Minister, S. Babayan did not even hide that he was protecting “Law and Unity” alliance created by the union of Hayk Babukhanyan’s “Constitutional Rights Union” party and Artashes Geghamyan’s “National Unity” party, which has now landed in the Republicans’ list. In 1999 Babayan was claiming that only in case of the victory of that union many issues standing against Armenia would be solved. In 1999 that union received 7.9%, although those change-bringers forgot Samvel Babayan in the first opportune moment and hurried to take shelter under Serzh Sargsyan’s auspices. After his release in 2007, Babayan participated in the parliamentary elections with his “Alliance” party by himself and received approximately 3% of votes. Today “ORO” alliance has an unveiled possibility to enter the Parliament. It will be difficult to solve such a problem, taking into account the amorphous shape of this unit, the absence of a distinctive political message and anti-ideology.
The existence of the new Constitution, adopted Electoral Code, tremendous administrative resources have created the greatest fore for Serzh Sargsyan and his RPA. Sargsyan has an opportunity to win without violence, having already solved the problem of the required votes beyond polling stations[iii]. The problem is that the ranking candidates of the incumbent party own huge financial resources and are able to guarantee their votes before the elections. And those votes will naturally go to the RPA, solving the main difficulty of 2007 and 2012 elections, when the candidates from Republican Party having won the majority had received more votes than the party. In other words, the candidates from the RPA, who won the majority of votes, were working for themselves harder, giving merely a secondary importance to the party. Today the party and the candidate are both included in one ballot paper, making the job of the RPA easier.
In this situation, the decayed liberal field is the greatest gift for Sargsyan as well, which has not yet learned a lesson from 1999 and is unable to put away disagreements, and, by refusing personal pretensions, become a single powerful party. Like in the international practice, in Armenia too, the liberals do not manage to regain their lost position, and in 1999, the elections have proved that the major reason for this ideology is the disability to unite. Now we have almost the same picture with other patterns conditioned by some kind of new peculiarities connected with time. This wing had a real potential of suggesting an alternative and preventing the pulverization of their votes due to unification. Despite it seemed that the elections of local self-government bodies, held in the end of 2016, should have definitely alerted these powers, each of them prefers to bring to life his own agreement, considering that especially they will not be among those whom authorities will leave empty-handed. Nevertheless, the year of 1999 is a precedent showing that the liberal wing might even get excluded from the Parliament. Undoubtedly, the art of failing to learn from history is not typical of Armenian liberalism alone.
In any case, the condition of Armenian domestic and foreign policy hints that the elections expected on the first Sunday of April will not be able to give an answer to the upcoming challenges, passing the struggle for power to the year of 2018. Although parliamentary elections will henceforth be the only way to decide who is in power. Depending on the transitive situation, they are not bound to take up the responsibility of passing on the power. No party has made taking the power from the RPA as a top priority for itself today, although the speeches of “ORO”, “Yelq” and “Tsarukyan” alliances started to change in the middle of the electoral campaign. However, this is limited by populist aims alone. If the RPA is seeking to the absolute majority and “Tsarukyan” alliance aims at the half of the Parliament at most, then the problem of other powers is to pass the minimum threshold. From this perspective, the example of 1999 emerges again, when there was no power to have either will or at least instinctive eagerness to stand as a barrier between the “Unity” alliance and levers of power. In this situation, it is simply impermissible to argue about the problem of power possession. The real owner of the power will be decided in 2018, but neither parties nor the society will take part in the decision-making process. When the issue of leaving the power as a legacy (or its mutation) is not solved through free and fair elections, then the backstage intrigue is given a priority to. The authorities will take up the organization of transformation phase, and on April 3, the opposition will reminisce the assessment of the same liberals on the elections of 1999: “The authorities elected the authorities”
[i] For example, the top person on “ANC-PPA” list is First President of the Republic of Armenia, Levon Ter-Petrossian, the second number of the proportional list of “Free Democrats” is the former Prime Minister Hrant Bagratyan, the second number of “Yelq” bloc is also taken by another former prime minister, Aram Sargsyan. Almost all the persons of the RPA list hold high offices today. The same can be said about ARF, especially about the first three names on the list, i.e. Armen Rustamyan (an MP since 1999), number two, Aghvan Vardanyan (MP from 1999 to 2007 and from 2012 to 2017, former minister of labor and social affairs), – number three, Minister of Territorial Administration and Development of the Republic of Armenia, Davit Lokyan (formerly the leader of the “ARF” faction in the Parliament, minister of agriculture and urban development of the Republic of Armenia). “Tsarukyan” alliance is under the leadership of businessman, former member of the National Security Council, Gagik Tsarukyan. The leaders of “ORO” alliance are former ministers, i.e. defense minister Seyran Ohanyan, ministers of foreign affairs, Raffi Hovannisian and Vardan Oskanian. The leader of “Armenian Renaissance” party is the former NA president, former secretary of the Security Council, Artur Baghdasaryan. Representatives of Communist Party are not an exception, although they were close to the power source in the “prosperous” Soviet times, before the Independence.
[ii] The RPA has constituted a majority in the Parliament since 2012, but they decided to share the responsibility for power with other parties.
[iii] It is striking information that also directly concerns the organization of the election process and the work in process, and inevitably the result as well. See https://news.am/arm/news/379458.html
Author: Nzhdeh Hovsepyan. © All rights are reserved.
Translator: Azatuhy Khachatrian.