Tag Archives: democracy in armenia

Yerevan Municipal Elections Over; Long Live Democracy in Armenia

A polling station in Yerevan
A polling station in Yerevan

The Yerevan municipal elections were held on May 5, complete with reported violations and harassment and subsequent criticisms. The ruling Republican Party of Armenia secured 58 percent of the vote and thus will determine the next mayor of Yerevan, who’s most definitely incumbent Taron Markarian. Prosperous Armenia Party and the Barev Yerevan movement garnered 20 percent and 8.7 percent, respectively. Voter turnout was 53.5 percent. All other opposition parties/ blocks were shut out.

Many political parties that are in opposition to the government or still on the fence were putting their faith in these elections, hoping that democracy would work in their favor this time around and system-wide reform would begin in Yerevan. Onlookers from thousands of miles away will be eager to see the election results and make their judgments about political successes and failures accordingly.

Despite past monitoring efforts by European structures like the OSCE and the pretense of transparency, it has been very easy to falsify the vote –not to mention essential in order to retain power–in nearly every election. Not only are games played at the polling stations–forging signatures on voter lists, ballot stuffing, bribing, carousel voting, harassment and so forth, numbers are undoubtedly being conjured behind closed doors at the Central Election Commission (CEC). Naturally, this cannot be proven for certain since the CEC ultimately reports to the president, just as all state bodies do.

In other words, the conclusion that the candidate or party that acquires the most votes is the real winner is a naïve sentiment for the simple fact that democracy and the rule of law are not allowed to function properly so long as the president of Armenia does not value that system of governance. And I don’t only mean Serge Sargsyan–his two predecessors also behaved essentially as dictators. The president has complete control over all governmental agencies and institutions, and ultimately he has the final say as to how something will play out. If governmental corruption for instance is to be stamped out, he must have the will to do it, not only the prime minister, who clearly doesn’t or else is powerless to do so. The judiciary likewise reports to the president; it can act independently in low-profile cases where private interests are not at stake. When the president wishes for a ruling to be made one way or another, the judge holding the verdict is obliged to carry out his wishes, or be dismissed.

The CEC is no exception to the rule. The head of the commission also caters to the whims, or rather the shrewd planning, of the president. In other words, the “official results” of the elections cannot be taken at face value as being legitimate and a just expression of will by the people. The doctrine of legitimacy is prescribed by the president of Armenia alone.

Sunday’s vote was falsified again simply because the authorities could get away with it, as was made quite obvious in February’s presidential elections, while managing to gain praise from Russia, Europe and the United States in the aftermath.

And when communities in the Diaspora continue to ignore violations of democratic values by blindly embracing the outcome of the vote (or remaining indifferent), despite any blatant flaws that were revealed, the Armenian citizenry is let down knowing that its compatriots based abroad are unsupportive of its plight.

Until the Armenian nation fully embraces democracy, the same free and fair elections that Western nations covet as the purest demonstration of freedom cannot be held. The determination is necessary, along with the much-needed collective consensus on the vote from the Diaspora.  This time around, it is vital for Armenian communities worldwide, which have expressed their concern and support for Armenia’s freedom, to carefully read about the violations that were reported by the Armenian press throughout the day (notable news sources include Hetq Online, RFE/RL, A1+ and Civilnet).

One hundred observers from the Diaspora were purportedly monitoring the municipal elections. Their crucial findings will need to be considered quite carefully in determining whether democracy in Armenia can indeed flourish, as it should.

Democracy in Action

Forum at Liberty Sq. 2 Yesterday I went to the third of five scheduled public forums held at Liberty Square organized by the Barevolution movement for this week. More will be taking place in the near future. A public rally is scheduled for Friday at 6 pm.

The forum speakers were Karapet Rubinyan, who was the deputy parliament speaker from 1995 to 1998, and human rights defender Avetik Ishkhanyan. Both of them spoke effectively, with brief, potent comments. They were to the point and even blunt in their answers to questions posed by the moderator as well as some in attendance. And you could tell, especially with Rubinyan, that they weren’t feeding the public with banal rhetoric, but were speaking from the heart. Both of them are clearly impassioned when it comes to Armenia’s future, as are many other spokesmen for the movement like Nikol Pashinyan and Andreas Ghukasian.

It was refreshing to hear such an exchange of opinions coming from intellectuals in a public space. This type of forum in Armenia is unprecedented, or at least I have not seen it before, and if that’s the case it’s unfortunate since I am likely not the only one with a Western background who hasn’t encountered it. This is true democracy in action where people can exchange ideas freely, and although there were several police officers weaving through the crowd (and likely undercover ones as well) whose very presence can be intimidating, that didn’t faze anyone. There were only a few hundred people in attendance, perhaps a little more, most of who were middle aged, but there was an energy that permeated that crowd, and the understanding that democracy can actually work in Armenia was definitely getting through.

Forum at Liberty Sq 1

In the closing remarks Raffi Hovannisian, nine days into the hunger strike, made the point that the Barevolution has reached all strata of society–in universities, cafés, public squares, homes. In other words, the turnout at the forum should not be a sign that the movement is losing steam. You don’t have to physically be in Liberty Square to support the movement, and in the social media, especially in the comments section of some online newspapers, you read a lot of this negativity, disinformation that people are giving up on Raffi. It’s simply not true.

Naturally the authorities are saying anything they can to discredit the movement. Serge Sargsyan was quoted by RFE/RL on March 18 stating, “What should I talk with Raffi Hovannisian about? What should I negotiate on with a man who is bitter at the world and has been hungry for eight days?” Anyone who has actually heard Raffi speak knows just the opposite–that he is the most optimistic, forward-thinking politician out there today. And Razmik Zohrabian, a deputy chairman of the ruling Republican Party who is infamous for making bizarre statements to the press, said in reference to the movement that “I’m starting to believe that some religious sect is behind them. It is provoking and managing them.” When pressed to identify the sect he of course said he didn’t know. But I can tell him now that the “sect” is the Armenian citizenry, and their “religion” is the demand for democracy and the rule of law to properly function in Armenia. It’s that simple.

Whether or not you agree that Raffi has a “plan” and knows what he is doing–which he insists he does (see my interview)–there is no question that he embodies the qualities and convictions of a true visionary. And that’s something the authorities don’t know how to handle, since there’s no one likeminded among them.

Elections Over. Now What?

Karen Minasian, photo
Karen Minasian photo

As the press and politicians predicted, Serzh Sargsyan won the 2013 Armenian presidential elections in a landslide victory with 58.6 percent of the vote. His main challenger, Raffi Hovannisian, came in second with a rather impressive 36.7 percent, much higher than Levon Ter-Petrossian’s “official” count back in 2008.

Naturally we don’t know how realistic these numbers actually are since there was widespread vote buying, ballot stuffing and arranged voter turnout with some people purportedly being bused into Yerevan from Gyumri according to one account. RFE/RL reported other specific cases of voting irregularities.

1600
Nelli Shishmanyan photo

There is already discussion of revolution in the air–Hovannisian’s press secretary Hovsep Khourshoudyan said today that “Even Serzh Sargsyan wants a constitutional revolution. A revolution is in the making.” And on Feb. 15 Aghvan Vartanian of ARF-Dashnaktsutyun told reporters that the party foresees a post-election “radical transformation” in Armenian politics. Naturally, such comments don’t seem serious when you have voters purportedly drawing caricatures on their ballots–one person actually ate his ballot at the polling station. This shows blatant cynicism in society, not a call for transformation.

As Armenians will likely tolerate another five-year term of Serzh Sargsyan, here’s a list of equally important issues and concerns that he should examine immediately in order to win over the confidence of the apathetic, hopelessly fatalistic public:

– Double the minimum wage to  increase the standards of living for 99% of the population, most of which is struggling, to further stimulate the economy with consumer spending.

– Dissolve the monopolies shared by several oligarchic clans to invite competition in the marketplace.

– Attract foreign investment by continuing to offer tax breaks to would-be investors. Waiving customs fees, a good chunk of which ends up in the pockets of officials anyway, would also be a nice incentive.

– Persuade oligarchs to create jobs by actually investing in the manufacturing sector instead of relying on selling cheap Turkish and Chinese imports at exorbitant prices to earn profits.

– Boost foreign investment in the IT industry. The importance of this cannot be stressed enough. There is a plethora of talented young software engineers in need of jobs and career growth potential. They are leaving the country en masse–I personally know about eight people who have departed for the US, Canada and Russia and are extremely successful there. That talent has to stay put and help build the country.

– Overhaul the social welfare system to ensure that the plight of the very poor and homeless (yes, people without shelter roam Yerevan’s streets) is assuaged by providing free housing, health care and employment for those who need it urgently.

– Either stop or retract the complex web of governmental corruption. President Sargsyan best knows what needs to be done so there’s no need to elaborate here.

The Armenian diaspora can do the following:

– In memory of the victims of the Armenian Genocide, actively become involved in curbing emigration and cease justifying the inevitability of it. As I have written on this blog the continued exodus has become an issue of national security for Armenia and it urgently has to reverse, people need to return to their homeland. Armenia needs to be populated, it’s that simple. Armenia is fast becoming a serfdom, and the middle class will likely shrink with continued cynicism and the infectious desire to be “anywhere but here.”

– Stimulate  civil society in Armenia through trainings and by promoting initiatives.

– Become proactive in democracy building efforts. The mentality that “you can’t do it” fostered by Armenians from Armenia living abroad needs to change.

Good luck, everyone.

Interview with Vartan Oskanian

Oskanian

In my interview with former Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, we spoke about his membership in the Prosperous Armenia Party and the party’s long-term program, the importance of free and fair National Assembly elections, planned measures to combat electoral fraud and voter apathy.

Go to the Hetq web site to watch the video or to Hetq’s channel on YouTube.