By LTC (Ret.) Sergey Sargsyan

So elections to the National Assembly are to be held in Armenia on May 12. By the results of the previous elections of 2003, the Republican Party of Armenia (RPA), “The Country of Law” Party (PCL) and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation “Dashnaktsutiun” (ARFD) composed a parliamentary coalition, which formed the Armenian Government. The RPA leader Andranik Margarian became Prime-Minister, the PCL leader Arthur Baghdasarian – speaker of the Parliament.  However, in July 2006, mainly due to tactical considerations (however, as it was announced, because of contradictions with its partners in the domestic, foreign policy issues and situation with democratization of the country), the PCL left the coalition, its leader and most of its representatives in the Government and Parliament  resigned. Representative of the Republican Party Tigran Torosyan was elected Speaker of the National Assembly.

Another loss of the power coalition was the sudden death of Prime Minister Andranik Margarian on March 25, 2007, who was the first in the party list of the RPA.

As a result, in accordance with the coalition agreement, envisaging that the position of the Prime-Minister belongs to the RPA, as the senior partner of the coalition, the vacant place was occupied by the Head of the RPA Council, Secretary of the Security Council of the Republic of Armenia, Minister of Defense Serge Sargsyan. Some peculiarity in the inter-party situation on the eve of the elections is that Serge Sargsyan is also the most probable candidate at the presidential elections in spring 2008. Becoming Prime-Minister can both increase S. Sargsyan’s popularity and at the same time reduce his rating in the eyes of the electorate. So he had to make hasty corrections in the RPA’s parliamentary and presidential campaigns.

The Republican Party of Armenia, officially registered in 1991, is now a typical ruling party and has more than 30.000 members, and its parliamentary faction is 44 MPs. It has six Ministers, almost one third of all state officials of the higher and medium ranks. RPA is planning to strengthen its positions in the National Assembly, including at the expense of its 27 candidates in the majority election districts.

One of the peculiarities of the 2007 elections is the more vivid and wide appearance of the business in the political parties, and in some cases – an immediate realization of the business potential in the party structures. The start of this process was marked not only by participation of the business elites in the previous parliamentary elections, but also formation of the core of the new Unified Labor Party (ULP) by a group of businessmen. However, the ULP has not become a mass party, which reduces the chances for repeating its 2003 success. A serious competition with RPA in the coming elections can be expected only from the “Prosperous Armenia” Party, which was created in 2006, but already having nearly 370,000 members and 526 branches and offices all over the country.

Its wide popularity, securing significant increase in membership, can be explained by the long benevolent activity of its leader – Gagik Tsarukian, one of the richest businessmen in Armenia, President of “Multi-Group” Concern  and head of the National Olympic Committee. According to many experts, one of the main tasks of this party in the 2007 parliamentary elections is attraction of the potentially protest electorate, the role that the “Land of Law” Party played during the previous elections. That is why it will be unreasonable to speak about any confrontation between the RPA and “Prosperous Armenia.” At the same time, their relations can be described as those between partners and rivals at the same time, who will not refrain from the opportunity to get the votes from each other. According to various estimations, both these parties can collect 27-31% of all votes.

In this sense it is interesting to follow another long-term pre-election project – self-promotion of the leader of the People’s Party Tigran Karapetian by his own “ALM” TV company and his personal participation in the news-analytical, political and entertainment shows and programs, which allowed him to gain popularity, especially in the rural regions of the country. The results of the elections should show how successfully such popularity can be converted into the political rating, and how successfully he selected the TV audience.

An alternative mobilization of the protest potential to the appearance of the big business to the politics could have been the idea of combating corruption as the main reason of the unsatisfied social and economic situation among the prevailing majority of the population, as in the most of the post-Soviet states. However, the opposition, united under these slogans in such public organizations as “Anti-criminal” and “Alternative,” is unable to lead any significant number of voters, because as a rule they, though having fashionable slogans, are headed and composed from former state officials and activists of the Armenian National Movement (ANM), the ruling force in 1991-1999, and their appeals to struggle against corruption are taken by the population without any trust and perceived with irony.

The third party, for which the 7% barrier is not a problem, Armenian Revolutionary Federation “Dashnaktsutiun,” which is marking its 117th anniversary this year. Symbolically, the number of its candidates in the election party list is also 117. Actually, it is the only big political party in Armenia, which has a strict political program and ideology with the century-long tradition of the collective decision-making and stable electoral base – 10-12%. ARFD is an all-Armenian party, having branches in more than 30 countries of the world.

Unlike Gagik Tsarukian, who repeated many times that he has no presidential ambitions, ARFD has already announced that it intends to have its own presidential candidate in 2008, but his name has not been disclosed so far. ARFD is consistent and active in some foreign political issues, first of all, such as international recognition of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic and Genocide of Armenians in the Ottoman Turkey, increasing of the autonomous status (cultural-autonomy) of Javakhk (the Armenian-populated region of Samtskhe-Javakheti in Georgia). Despite the fact that the party is now a member of the ruling coalition, under some circumstances it can pass to opposition. Although many sociological polls show that the number of its supporters is decreasing, substantial successes of the Armenian diplomacy in the recent several years – not only of Armenia, but Diaspora, as well, to put it more strictly – in the issue of international recognition of the Genocide are quite able to multiply the number of the ARFD’s votes in the upcoming parliamentary elections.

The opposition field on the eve of the elections is represented quite well, but it is too much fractured. Among the opposition parties first of all it is the People’s Party of Armenia (PPA) and “National Unity” Party (NUP), which have chances to enter the Parliament. But it is necessary to note that even in case of overcoming the election barrier, they will hardly be able to impact the work of the Parliament to any extent.

The fact that this time all opposition parties will take part in the elections alone is not only a result of the changes in the Election Code of the Republic of Armenia, according to which the barrier was raised up to 7%, but also the unwillingness of the People’s Party of Armenia and its leader Stepan Demirchian to play the unifying role of the opposition forces.

In the previous elections of 2003, the election bloc “Justice,” headed by the PPA, having nearly 30.000 members, succeeded in letting a number of representatives of some small parties become members of parliament, and they composed a faction under the same name.  However, it weakened the individual PPA image, and the passiveness of the faction and the long boycott of the sessions of the Parliament was perceived by many PPA supporters as non-productive and unreasonable, which seems almost unacceptable in light of Stephan Dermirchian’s intention to be a candidate for the RA President. In addition, he also has to take into account the weakening image associations with his father – Karen Demirchian, who was the First Secretary of the Communist Part of Soviet Armenia, then returned back with triumph to the politics in 1999, became Chairman of the National Assembly of Armenia and was shot as a result of the terrorist attack in the Parliament on October 27, 1999.

Peculiarity of the behavior in the domestic politics of the “National Unity” Party, which is really able to compete to enter the Parliament, is in the permanent readiness of its leader Artashses Geghamian, who does not hide his intentions to become President, to create wide-range opposition coalitions and blocks with last-minute refusal of actively taking part in them under various good pretexts. Although it creates the NUP’s image of an opposition party, but really working for the interests of the authorities.

Since the peak of the national movement in late 1980’s-early 1990’s, with rare exceptions, there have not been any new independent leaders with a more or less well-cut and comprehensive program, understandable for Armenian population, although the demand and expectation for such leaders and new faces in the politics are very high. In particular, it can be proved by the mass rallies in Yerevan, which were collected in mid- and late 1990s by Arkady Vardanian and the leader of “New Times” Party Aram Karapetian. However, the lack of clearness in their programs, similar to the programs of the opposition and pro-governmental parties, each time reduced the popular interest.

The “Country of Law” Party, which was created just for elections in 1999, succeeded in collecting 148.000 votes – 12.49%. The withdrawal of the party from the coalition in May 2006 was evaluated by many Armenians as a too early start of the election campaign of the party and its leader Arthur Baghdasarian, who also has the desire to become President of the Republic. Such a step was also not duly understood by the ordinary members of the party and some Deputies and businessmen left it, which significantly reduced the intellectual and financial potential of the party.

Arthur Baghdasarian tried to occupy the empty niche of the pro-Western part (only a few small parties in Armenia have an active pro-Western orientation, and they do not have any chances to enter the Parliament). It could have singled out the PCL against the backdrop of the remaining political forces (first of all, the RPA), which support the effective well-balanced complementary policy, based on the economical, military and political realities. The PCL had enough time for self-assertion as a  pro-Western party, at least up to the end of the presidential elections of 2008, because as a rule, in the election period the statements of Armenian authorities are more pro-Russian, aimed at avoiding losing Moscow’s support, which might have been treated by the electorate as worsening economic perspectives of Armenia, especially, in the issue of oil and gas supplies by privileged prices.

Despite the correction of the party image, change of the foreign political priorities and electoral base, loss of the financial assistance and many supporters, the PCL had some chances to enter the National Assembly, but maybe the final blow for the hopes and maybe continuation of the political career of Arthur Baghdasarian, was so called “cassette scandal.”

“Golos Armenii” (“The Voice of Armenia”) newspaper published in its April 22 and 26 issues recording of the conversation of the PCL leader Arthur Baghdasarian with the Vice-Consul of the UK Embassy in Armenia Richard Heyden, which took place presumably in February in one of Yerevan restaurants. During the conversation Arthur Baghdasarian was trying to secure consent for interference of international organizations into pre-election processes. In particular, he proposed to initiate the EU concerns regarding the respect of the principles of openness and democratic norms in the election campaign far before the elections and tried to get the guarantees of support for his future statements on the alleged serious frauds after  elections.

There was no renunciation  of the publication by Arthur Baghdasarian, the PCL’s official statement was neutral, and the expertise by the National Security Service of Armenia showed that the CD with the recorded conversation, which was brought in the newspaper’s office by an unknown person or persons, was identical.  President of the Republic has already described Baghdasarian’s behavior as treachery.

There are real pre-requisites in Armenia for holding open and fair elections, first of all thanks to the fact that the objectively established composition of preferences of the electorate practically guarantees the ruling party and the pro-governmental forces (“Prosperous Armenia” Party) not only to enter the Parliament, but also to have the opportunity to create the majority coalition with further formation of the Cabinet of Ministers.

The weakness of the opposition pre-determines its inability to have any substantial impact on the domestic political processes in Armenia.

In addition, as far as these elections will be the first after Armenia’s joining the Action Plan of the European Neighborhood Policy, the respect of the democratic principles in the process of the election campaign and during the elections is already in the focus of attention of  international organizations and leading states of the world.

In such situation the authorities, who are going to secure legitimacy to their succession, are desperately interested in holding transparent and fair elections.

On the whole, the results of the elections will not have any impact on the foreign political priorities of Armenia. The only internal political intrigue is distribution of votes between the RPA and “Prosperous Armenia,” i.e. what kind of relations will be established between the two partner-rivals.

April 26, 2006