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IMPLICATIONS OF PARLIAMENTARY ELECTION'S RESULTS IN ARMENIA Armenian News Network / Groong June 7, 2007 By Grigor Hakobyan Background: On May 12th Armenia held its widely anticipated parliamentary elections registering a major progress in the conduct of its elections and improvement in the transparency of the electoral process. Several thousand Armenian election observers representing dozens of local NGOs and political parties were joined by more than seven hundred foreign observers from CIS, EU and other European structures, invited to Armenia for the same purpose. Despite a number of registered voting irregularities that occurred at some polling stations where several of them resulted in criminal investigations by the Ministry of Justice, and continuous accusations by the radical Armenian opposition of government's complicity in inappropriate acts constituting electoral fraud, such as bribing of voters at some polling stations and questionable methods of facilitating voter turn out, such as driving voters to the polling stations in mini vans and buses rented or owned by specific political parties taking part in the elections, the overall conduct of parliamentary elections in Armenia has received positive assessments from accredited foreign observers representing CIS, ODIHR/OSCE and PACE. According to the latest official statistics, 1,375,733 of Armenian citizens took part in the parliamentary elections, which is 59.4% of total voters registered in Armenia. Representatives of radical and moderate opposition comprised of Republic Party, New Times Party, Impeachment bloc, People's Party of Armenia and Social-Democratic Party Hnchakyan, National Unity Party and several other parties and organizations suffered a major defeat, being unable to gain more than 5% required votes to earn representation in the Armenian National Assembly. Overall, more than a dozen of opposition parties that took part in the elections pulled together nearly 27% of the total votes, however due do their inability to unite around common platforms and political cause, each one of them suffered a defeat. As a result, only two opposition parties, Country of Law and Heritage Party were able to gain seats in the newly elected Armenian National Assembly. In total, five parties were able to cross the required 5% barrier in the number of votes necessary to be able to hold a corresponding number of mandates in the newly elected Armenian National Assembly. Those parties were: Republican Party of Armenia which earned 33.8% of the votes and gained 64 seats plus additional 8 seats that were given to RPA due to failure of opposition parties to gain enough votes; Prosperous Armenia Party earned 15.1% of the votes and managed to gain 18 seats; Armenian Revolutionary Federation earned 13.1% of the votes and was able to gain 16 seats; Heritage Party led by Armenia's former Minister of Foreign Affairs, American-born Raffi Hovhanessian earned 6% of the votes and gained 7 seats; and the Country of Law Party led by ex-parliament speaker Artur Baghdasaryan earned 6.8% of the votes and gained 9 seats. The remaining 9 parliamentary seats were won by independently running wealthy candidates, commonly believed to have a leaning toward the Republican Party of Armenia. Analysis: Country of Law Party, led by former Parliament Speaker Artur Baghdasaryan was recently mired in a controversial political scandal involving a British diplomat stationed in Armenia. According to a transcript of the conversation presented by a well known pro-governmental Russian-language newspaper Golos Armenii, Artur Baghdasaryan had asked the British diplomat to rally other European diplomats in providing a negative assessment of the elections before the elections actually took place. The controversy associated with their meeting led the President of Armenia, Robert Kocharyan, call Baghdasaryan's actions as traitorous to the security of Armenia. The political pressure against Artur Baghdasaryan created by the pro-government media outlets in the country is believed by some observers to have contributed in a stronger than anticipated performance of the party during the conduct of recent elections and may have successfully propelled the party into winning seats in the Armenian National Assembly. The results of parliamentary elections in Armenia have also registered a major shift in the political thinking of Armenian people and gave rise to a developing political spectrum of correlation between liberal and conservative forces in the country and further registered a decline of Russian influence in Armenia. Specifically the voting results have indicated a growing orientation of Armenian electorate toward larger and relatively well organized political parties, leaving behind more than a dozen other small political parties that have existed for the last fifteen years. These political forces were known for their lack of political vision and frequent escapades into a populist rhetoric without presenting much substance behind their ideas. Frequent boycotts of parliamentary sessions on their behalf created a negative public image of them as deputies who are getting paid for a job not done. Furthermore, their inability to rally a critical mass of supporters during their protest demonstrations has indicated low popularity ratings associated with these parties in Armenia and dashed hopes of large segments of the population on their real abilities to bring political changes to the state of affairs in Armenia and contribute to the betterment of the country. Growing support for western ideas and values within Armenia has also indicated to the decline of Russian popularity in the country. Political opposition in the country, represented by traditionally pro-Russian political forces such as the New Times Party led by Aram Karapetyan, National Unity Party of Artashes Geghamyan and People's Party of Armenia lead by Stephan Demirchyan have lost to a different type of opposition forces in Armenia comprised of parties widely perceived by the Armenian public as being of western orientation: Country of Law Party led by Artur Baghdasaryan and Heritage Party led by Raffi Hovhanessian. However, although there is enough basis to consider Country of Law Party as pro-western in its orientation, well known for advocating more extensive cooperation with NATO and deeper integration with the Euro-Atlantic structures, public perception of Heritage Party in Armenia as being of pro-western orientation as well may prove to be misplaced and rather inconclusive. The successful victory of Republican Party of Armenia in the parliamentary elections has empowered them to be able to create a ruling government single-handedly if they choose to do so and has strengthened the position of Serge Sarkissyan as the RPA candidate for the next presidential elections to be held in Armenia in 2008. However, according to various reports leaking out into the Armenian press, RPA is poised to create a coalition government again together with Prosperous Armenia Party and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation. The potential participation of Heritage Party in the coalition government is not publicly excluded, while the participation of Country of Law Party in a new coalition government hardly seems possible. Meanwhile, the current distribution of political forces in the Armenian National Assembly seems to fit expectations of the regional and supranational players in the region and further preclude the possibility of major changes taking place in Armenia's domestic and foreign affairs for the foreseeable near future. Conclusion: Based on the results of the recent parliamentary elections, the observed degree of transparency associated with the elections and registered improvements in the democratic process of holding such elections in Armenia, it could be argued that the next presidential elections in Armenia to be held in 2008 will mark another step forward in the level of its compliance with international standards and contribute to the reduction of electoral fraud that has transpired during previous elections held in Armenia. Continuous monitoring of the democracy building process taking place in Armenia by international organizations will further contribute to increased participation on behalf of the Armenian electorate in the upcoming presidential elections and will further instill hope among the Armenian public that their votes will be counted and that the probability of potential vote falsification by vying political forces will be significantly less likely than otherwise. Additionally, RPA's success in gaining a majority of votes in the Armenian National Assembly has clearly established the current Prime Minister of Armenia, Serge Sarkissyan as the front runner in the race for the presidency of Armenia in 2008. The most likely contenders to the presidency of Armenia among the political forces represented in the National Assembly will likely arise from the Armenian Revolutionary Federation and Country of Law, which is most likely to nominate Artur Baghdasaryan as its presidential candidate. Meanwhile, the most likely presidential candidates to be nominated from the ARF may be current Deputy Parliament Speaker Vahan Hovanessyan and Armenia's current Minister of Foreign Affairs, American-educated Vardan Oskanyan. On the other hand, several political leaders from the opposition not represented in the National Assembly such as former Defense Minister of Armenia Vazgen Manukyan and former Prime Minister of Armenia Aram Sargsyan are the most likely presidential candidates from the street opposition to challenge Serge Sarkissyan's candidacy in 2008. Sources: 1) EurasiaNet-May 16, 2007 2) Radio Liberty-May 21, 2007 3) Arka News Agency-May 16, 2007 4) PanARMENIAN.Net-May 14, 2007 5) RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 11, No. 87, Part I, 14 May 2007 6) AZG Armenian Daily-May 15, 2007 7) Mediamax News Agency-May 13 2007 8) Noyan Tapan-May 13, 2007 9) ArmInfo-May 13, 2007 10) PanArmenian.Net-May 13, 2007 11) ArmRadio.am-May 12, 2007 12) Noyan Tapan-May 29, 2007 13) Golos Armenii (Russian lng. newspaper published in Armenia) -May 25, 2007 -- Grigor Hakobyan is an independent political analyst residing in Scottsdale, AZ.