10/04/2012 - Analysis
On 23rd February last the Armenian authorities announced that the next general elections would take place on 6th May. Nine political parties are running: the five parties represented in the National Assembly, the only chamber in parliament comprising the Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), Prosperous Armenia (BHK), the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (HHD), Rule of Law (Orinats Erkir, OEK) and Heritage (Z), which is standing in a coalition with the Free Democrats of Khachatur Kokobelian, as well as the Armenian National Congress (HAK), the Communist Party (HKK), the Democratic Party and the United Armenians.
The Armenian government led by Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian (HHK) has comprised the Republican Party, Prosperous Armenia and Rule of Law since 21st March 2008. The Armenian Revolutionary Federation was a member of the government coalition until 2009 before leaving it because of its opposition to the government's foreign policy.
On 12th February last the Armenians elected their local representatives. The Republican Party led by President of the Republic Serzh Sarkisian won 33 of the 39 country's towns. The opposition claimed that there had been electoral fraud.
The legislative campaign started on 8th April and will end on 4th May. 238 people working in Armenia's embassies or consulates will be able to vote on 27th April and 1st May.
The parties running
The Republican Party will be led by the President of the Republic, Serzh Sarkisian, who heads the electoral list. Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian lies third and the Mayor of Erevan, Taron Margarian is 4th. Artashes Geghamiann leader of the National Unity Party lies 17th, Khorsow Harutiunian, head of the Christian Democratic Party is 18th and Haik Babukhanian, who leads the Union of Constitutional Law Party, lies 19th
The government's leader, Tigran Sarkisian, declared that his party had chosen to make the fight against poverty one of its priorities in its next mandate as it governs the country. "The poverty rate has reached 30% in Armenia. Until now we have distributed social aid but in our new programme we are proposing to develop employment and training. The lack of education is the first reason for increasing inequalities and poverty; as a result we are going to work more towards educating our citizens,
" he stressed.
Prosperous Armenia leader, Gagik Tsarukian will lead his party's list. Former Foreign Minister (1998-2008) Vardan Oskanian joined this party saying that only Prosperous Armenia was able to make the next general elections free and transparent. He will be supported by the Solidarity Party led by Sargis Avetisian and the United Labour Party led by Grugen Arsenian.
Rule of Law, a pro-European party, has chosen "Confidence to build the rule of law in Armenia
" as its slogan. "Our vision of the future of Armenia is liberal, centrist and European
", declared the party's leader Arthur Baghdasarian who said that the government coalition formed in 2008 had "saved the country
As for the opposition the Armenian Revolutionary Federation that lies to the left of the political scale is extremely critical of the government's economic policy. It is fighting for wage and pension increases and an increase in social aid.
Heritage and the Free Democrats, a party founded by former members of the Panarmenian National Movement (PANM) led by the first president of the Republic of Armenia in (1991-1998), Levon Ter Petrossian, in the 1990's, have decided to stand together in these general elections. According to its leader Raffi Hovannisian, this coalition will "move mountains.
Many Armenians fear that the next general elections will be marred by electoral fraud, a phenomenon that is frequent in a country where the electoral roll is not public. "No other country in the world has a law that says that the voters' list must not be made public,
" says Felix Khachatrian, secretary of the Armenian People's Party, who suspects the authorities in power of disposing of the vote of 500,000 Armenians living abroad as it wishes.
Recently four parties – Prosperous Armenia, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, Heritage and the Armenian National Congress – signed a joint declaration that promises to "defend the Armenians' vote
". Galust Sahakian, the parliamentary leader of the Republican Party, qualified this action as "romantic" and stressed it was not possible to sign a text like that in a hurry.
On 3rd February last the editor in chief of the daily Haykakan Zhamanak
, Hayk Gevorgian, has been arrested. The newspaper had already been forced to pay a fine of several million drams for having slandered the family of former President of the Republic (1998-2008) Robert Kotcharian. According to a recent poll by the Centre for Political and Public Studies two-thirds of the Armenians (66%) say they do not have any confidence in the elections on 6th May.
The Armenian Political System
The Armenian Parliament is monocameral. Its only chamber, the National Assembly (Azgayin Zhoghov), has 131 members elected for five years. 90 of them are appointed by the simple majority within a single national constituency and 41 others are appointed in a proportional election in 41 constituencies. Every political party has to win a minimum of 5% of the vote to be represented in the National Assembly (7% of the vote for coalitions). Moreover, the lists have to include a minimum of 15% of women amongst their candidates. The latter have to be aged at least 25. Finally every party has to pay a deposit of a thousand times the minimum salary which is reimbursed if it wins a 5% minimum of the vote.
On 27th December 2011 Heritage and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation suggested that all 131 members of the National Assembly be elected according to a proportional system. They criticise the fact that the 41 MPs elected by the majority vote benefit the parties in power whom they help assert their majority. They also point to the aptness of the proportional system for a "small" State and a lightly populated country. Stepan Demirchian, leader of the People's Party, says that the measure would lead to a reduction in electoral fraud and David Harutiunian, chairman of the Legal Affairs Committee in parliament stresses that it would be beneficial to the emergence of political parties. On 29th February the draft law was rejected by the National Assembly: 56 MPs voted against, 30 approved it. The Republican Party said that this measure was bad for democracy and declared that it would take the country towards a dictatorship.
5 political parties are represented in the National Assembly at present:
– the Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), a centre-right movement founded in 1990 and led by the present president of the Republic Serzh Sarkisian, has 64 seats;
– Prosperous Armenia (BHK), a centrist liberal party in April 2004 founded in April 2004 by businessman Gagik Tsarukian, has 18 seats;
– the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutiun, HHD), socialist, led by Vahan Hovhannisian, with 18 MPs;
– Rule of Law (OEK), centrist liberal party led by Artur Baghdasarian, has 16 seats;
– Heritage (Zharangutiun, Z), centrist liberal founded in 2002 by Raffi Hovannisian, has 9 MPs.
According to the polls the Republican Party and Prosperous Armenia are the two parties that will win in the general elections with 39% and 36% of the vote respectively. The Armenian National Congress is due to win 8.5% of the vote and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, 6.1% of the vote. Finally Heritage-Free Democrats and Rule of Law are due to win 5% of the vote each.