(Video: OSCE election observer statement on Armenia's May 6 parliamentary elections)
By Naira Hayrumyan
Experts usually make references to ideological differences between contestants in elections. In referring to the Armenia vote, most foreign media would call it a contest between the presidential party and the party of a billionaire former arm wrestling champ – the Republican Party of Armenia led by President Serzh Sargsyan and the Prosperous Armenia Party of Gagik Tsarukyan.
In France, people went to the polls in the presidential runoff to choose between the right-wing ideology, which is based on the support of those “who know how to make money”, and the socialist one, which stands for higher taxes for the rich and more money spent on the opening of new jobs. In France, the Socialists won (with their candidate Francois Hollande beating incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy), and the people of France, still experiencing the effects of the recent global economic crisis, decided that they needed social benefits more than the financial strengthening of Europe.
Greece was also making its difficult ideological choice: two major parties that have alternately ruled the country since 1974, have been in favor of austerity measures, including the sale of national wealth, if only to stay in the euro zone and to get loans to repay the debt. The Conservatives and the right-wing forces think they can sacrifice the future of the euro zone to preserve the national wealth and social guarantees. And in Greece, the latter ideology has prevailed.
In Serbia, the choice has been between the forces espousing concessions on national issues for the European future, and those who have a hard line on issues related to sovereignty, including on Kosovo. The pro-European party is enjoying a slim advantage, with President Boris Tadic still facing a tense runoff.
And what have the political forces in Armenia been fighting for? What ideologies do the parties that entered the fray stand for? Perhaps, it is only clear that ARF Dashnaktsutyun is a nationalist and socialist party. It speaks of social reform, about promoting national issues. The other parties are quite amorphous.
For example, the ruling Republican Party of Armenia, which spent much of the past five years trying to grapple with the crisis, has been running on the platform of reforms. What it hasn’t said, however, is what kind of reforms it wants to press ahead with. Nor has the opposition Armenian National Congress elaborated in plain terms what kind of reforms it wants to implement. Sometimes it stresses social issues, stating that it is necessary to curb migration, resulting in a dwindling of the population, then it speaks of a liberal economy that is far from being social-oriented.
The most obscure position is of the Prosperous Armenia Party, whose leader Tsarukyan, known for his charity projects, would state at campaign rallies that after the elections he will be doing “even more for the people than he has done before.”
An ideological struggle, when everyone could try this ideology on themselves and see what their lives would be like if one ideology or another prevails, would have entailed a real competition. But this time, the presidential party prevailed.
France and Greece, in fact, have changed their ideologies and the power along with it. In Armenia, the power remained, and this means that nothing will change in people’s lives. Do people going to the polls really want their life to stay unchanged?
Still before the parliamentary elections both the government and opposition were saying that they were preparing for the February 2013 presidential election. And from this point of view it is interesting what the list of presidential candidates will look like against the new backdrop of the alignment of forces in the National Assembly.
Still last year President Serzh Sargsyan publicly spoke about his plans to run for a second term in 2013. And the victory by his party, which is expected to gain some 70 seats in the National Assembly and an opportunity to form the government single-handedly, is likely to become a solid support for his reelection bid. The question is whether or not the first and second presidents of Armenia, Levon Ter-Petrosyan and Robert Kocharyan, mount any serious challenge to him.
The opposition Armenian National Congress led by Ter-Petrosyan has overcome the 7% hurdle for election blocs in the May 6 parliamentary elections and has got the right to form a faction in the next parliament. The result appears to be much more modest than expected by Ter-Petrosyan, whose bloc, however, has been speaking about large-scale violations during the Sunday polls.
But the real question here is whether Ter-Petrosyan will estimate his chances as good enough to try to join another presidential campaign against Sargsyan (the last time they had a rivalry in 2008 the opposition leader got some 21%, as against Sargsyan’s 52%, and the eventual street standoff resulted in deadly clashes). As things stand now, Ter-Petrosyan hasn’t got any reassuring result percentage-wise.
As for Kocharyan, he had implied he would announce his decision on whether or not to return to active politics after the elections, after May 6. Prosperous Armenia and the ARF, both of which are believed to be loyal to Kocharyan, according to preliminary vote results, have about 36% of the vote. This appears to be a formative resource, and Kocharyan may just put everything on the line.
In this view, new alliances could already be in the offing, such as those that have already been formed once during the pre-election month. If the ANC also backs the candidate from the PAP (whether Kocharyan or former Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian), then an alternative to Sargsyan is possible.
One way or another, May 7 marks not only the end of the grueling parliamentary campaign, but the start of perhaps a similarly strenuous presidential race.
---This commentary originally appeared in ArmeniaNow.