07/05/2007 - D-7
On 12th May next, 1,447 candidates including 281 women from 23 political parties will be standing to win the vote of 2.32 million voters in 41 constituencies during the general elections in Armenia. 1,313 candidates will attempt to win by a proportional voting system one of the 90 seats in the Azgayin Zhoghov, the only house in Parliament. The electoral law authorises anyone standing in the election by majority vote to feature on one list enabling him/her to be elected by the proportional system. Every political party has to win a minimum of 5% of the vote to be represented in Parliament (7% for coalitions).
These elections are particular in that they are above all an internal battle between the authorities in power (the Republican Party and Prosperous Armenia), bringing government forces into conflict rather than the government against the opposition. Prosperous Armenia (BHK) which was founded at the start of 2006 by businessman Gagik Tsarukian, is a movement close to the Republican Party (HHK) which does not comprise a real alternative. Many political analysts believe that this party plays the role of the opponent in order to serve the ruling power better. Whatever the situation really is the game played by the two parties is largely facilitated by the division of the opposition.
The two main opposition parties – the National Unity Party (AM) led by Artaches Guegamian ; the Popular Party led Stepan Demirchian (son of Karen Demirchian, leader during the Soviet period) and the Rule of Law (OE) led by Artur Baghdasarian – are fighting out the position of opposition leader with the Republican Party. Only Stepan Demirtchian has tried to come together with the other opposition representatives, notably with the Party of the Republic led by Aram Sarkisian who called on 21st March for Armenians to take part in the election and to "protect their votes". Some political analysts believe that the opposition will use the general elections to gauge the support they have with a view to the presidential election that will take place in March 2008, an election believed to be crucial by all.
The Party of the Republic, the Impeachment Alliance, created by the Democratic Party led by Petros Makeyan and the Conservative party led by Mikayel Hayrapetian along with the New Times Party led by Aram Karapetian announced on 28th April that they were coming together in these elections.
Economic development and the respect of the State of Law are the focus of all of the electoral debates. The Republican Party whose motto is "For You Armenia!" promises to promote investments in the economic sector to and to create jobs. Prosperous Armenia is promising to reduce poverty, to increase pensions and to create new jobs. The party is also promising to build roads and to repair decrepit buildings. For its part Rule of Law is fighting for a more decent standard of living and the establishment of a State of Law and Justice. Armenia's membership of the European Union is this party's priority with regard to foreign policy.
The Heritage Party led by former Foreign Minister, Raffi Hovannissian and who some political observers think will enter Parliament on the occasion of these general elections, also wants to establish a State of Law. He promises the creation of 150,000 new jobs in three years. The Impeachment Alliance would like to overthrow the "anti-democratic and illegitimate regime" that rules the country and plans to take legal action against the President of the Republic, Robert Kotcharian, if it wins the elections. The National Unity Party (AM) is promising to bring in 43 laws to help Armenia out of the crisis it finds itself in at the moment. Finally the Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), member of the government coalition points to the birth rate and hopes to bring the population up to 4 million by 2012.
During this electoral campaign the political parties are vying against each other with electoral promises, notably in the regions most affected by unemployment in the north of the country. Rule of Law has promised the inhabitants of the country's second biggest town Gyumri the installation of a cable network enabling them to access Russian TV channels. A Republican Party candidate went even further promising to build a new TV tower in the town. On 3rd April Energy Minister Armen Movsisian, maintained that the chemical company from Gyumri which was destroyed during the earthquake in 1988 would open again soon and provide work to 370 people. Head of State Robert Kotcharian, already promised the re-opening of the company during his presidential campaign in 2003. According to an electoral law campaign expenses are limited to 160,000 dollars per party but parties use loop holes that exist in the texts to spend much more than this amount. The multiplication of electoral promises simply increases cynicism and leads to electoral apathy on the part of the Armenian population."40% of the electorate does not feel concerned by the upcoming general elections," maintains Artaches Guegamian whose supporters will demonstrate in the streets of Erevan on 13th May if there are electoral infringements. In February last, Artur Baghdasarian mentioned in the American daily, The Wall Street Journal that there was a danger of the next general elections being stolen by the "government forces" and maintained, "It is important to know who will win but it is even more important to know how they will do it."
The general elections that will be followed by a presidential election in 2008 are an important test for Armenia. The European Union, the USA and the Council of Europe have called several times for the elections to be held in a democratic, free and transparent manner. The practices of some political parties have already been questioned by international observers in the country with regard to these general elections. Leo Platvoet, director of the observation mission for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe said that he was worried about the infringements observed by his team. "If Armenia wants to be part of the European community it must take a step in the direction byholding free elections," he declared.
Some incidents have been observed during the electoral campaign. On 2nd April last Vardan Gukasian (HHK), mayor of Gyumri, was the victim of an assassination attempt. On 12th April two bombs exploded in the offices of Prosperous Armenia. Finally on 30th April a fight broke out between supporters of a party that is not running in the election. "These incidents show that some people do not want free elections to take place. It is not important who organised these incidents, they are our enemies," declared Serzh Sarkisian, Prime Minister and top of the Republican Party list.
The victory of the Republican Party is very important and vital to the President of the Republic, Robert Kotcharian who said he would like the present Prime Minister, Serzh Sarkisian to succeed him as head of state. On 27th April during a meeting with professors and students at the University of Erevan the President of the Republic indicated the parties he would like to see enter Parliament: the Republican Party, Prosperous Armenia, the Revolutionary Federation Dashnaktsutyun and the United Workers' Party.
According to Aharon Adibekian the director of Sociometer, 6 parties might enter Parliament on 12th May next. These are the Republican Party, Prosperous Armenia, Rule of Law, the Revolutionary Federation Dashnaktsutyun, the United Workers' Party and the Heritage Party. His forecasts are based on the results of a poll undertaken by his institute in which the Republican Party and Prosperous Armenia came out ahead in the voting intentions with 13.1% and 11.1% of the vote respectively. The Republican Party has been however falling behind for the last few weeks.