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Review & Outlook - 06/07/2007

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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.

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