2012 Armenian Parliamentary Elections: (2) The Choice – The parties of the governing coalition.

The coalition that has backed Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan government in the last four years has very often looked tired, divided and without vision, and the 6 May parliamentary elections will provide a test to all its three components, one of which may not make it back to the parliament at all. But the coalition’s first test is going to be its ability to deliver free and fair elections that will give the Armenian political system in general a legitimacy that it has to some extent lacked.

In the second in a series of briefings about the 6 May Parliamentary elections in Armenia, LINKS Analysis looks at the three parties of the governing coalition, their policies and their prospects in the forthcoming elections.

For most of the time, since his election as President in February 2008, Serzh Sargsyan has governed with the support of a three party coalition, which provided him with a solid majority in the parliament, and also from where he could choose the members of his government. The backing of the three parties was vital for the President as he steered Armenia through the turbulence of the impact of the global economic crisis, and as he dealt with the aftermath of the protests that surrounded his controversial election, and which left several people dead, and Armenian society divided and polarised.  The initial coalition that was launched on 19 March 2008 also included the Dashnak party, The Armenian Revolutionary Federation, but they left the coalition a year later citing foreign policy differences. At the time the coalition promised “popular reforms,” improvement in the “mechanisms for human rights protection”,  and “bold and realistic reforms.”.

In truth throughout these four years the coalition very often looked tired, divided and without vision, and the elections will provide a test to all its three components, one of which may not make it back to the parliament at all.

The largest party in the coalition is that  of the President himself, the Republican Party of Armenia (Hayastani Hanrapetakan Kusaktsutyun, HHK). The Party describes itself as a national conservative party, was founded in 1990 and claims to have 140,000 members. The party has gone through a number of internal changes since then. After the first President of Armenia, Levon Ter Petrossian, was forced out of office in 1997, the party became increasingly identified with the influential  Yerkrapah Volunteers’ Union, and today groups together state officials, oligarchs and others who identify themselves with the ruling establishment.

The Republican Party polled 33.91% of the popular vote, winning 64 out of 131 seats at the last parliamentary elections on May 12, 2007. Since his election as President, Serzh Sargsyan has tried to introduce some changes to the party of which he is Chairman, and there have been some attempts to modernise the image of the Party. This was greatly helped when the current prime minister, Tigran Sargsyan, considered a technocrat and a reformist, joined the Party.

The Party is an observer member of the centre-right European People’s Party.

The HHK is running in the election with a slogan “Lets Believe in change” and President Sargsyan has in his speeches throughout the election campaign spoke about the need for a new economic policy that will make Armenia more competitive. However some political observers have criticised the Party for running in the elections with a list of candidates that is less than inspiring. Indeed the HHK election lists reflects more a careful balance of different power interests. President Sargsyan himself heads the list, followed by the Former Parliamentary  Speaker, Hovik Abrahamyan  and Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan. Abrahamyan resigned his Parliamentary post in November in order to lead the election campaign for the HHK. He was joined by the first deputy head of the Presidential Administration Mikayel Minasyan, who is the President’s son-in-law and very media savvy. The move of these two key figures to the HHK campaign headquarters indicated that the Party was taking the elections seriously, and was keen to try to win fairly. The other members of the HHK candidate list include various government officials, some artists, and a good dose of businessmen, as well as several political personalities who nominally represent other parties but who have generally been supporters of the authorities, such as Artashes Geghamyan – leader of National Unity party, Khosrov Harutyunyan– leader of Christian-Democratic Union and Hayk Babukhanyan– leader of Constitutional Rights union.

Whilst leaders of the HHK claim that they expect to win an outright majority of the seats in the Parliament, a more likely scenario is that the Party will see its number of seats reduced as new forces come into play in Armenian politics, however it will be a big earthquake in Armenian politics if the Party does not emerge with the highest number of seats in the new Parliament.

The second coalition party is the Prosperous Armenia Party (Bargavadj Hayastan Kusaktsutyun , BHK) founded by businessman Gagik Tsarukian in late 2005. It contested  the 2007 Armenian parliamentary elections, winning 18 seats and 15.13% of the votes, making it the second largest political party in parliament. BHK is sometimes seen as an attempt by former President Robert Kocharian to maintain political influence in the country, but he has refrained from taking any active public role in the party.

The slogan of the party in the election is “Our word is deed: Believe, Trust, Demand!”. Like the other main coalition Party, BHK is emphasising economic issues in its election campaign, reflecting the overwhelming concerns of the voters on this issue. However BHK biggest coup ahead of the election was the signing up of Vardan Oskanyan, Armenia’s former Foreign Minister for many years, and a respected personality both locally and internationally as one of its candidates. Oskanian, who appears second in the Party’s proportional representation list, will add gravitas to the Party in any future coalition and will be a candidate for one of the senior posts in the government in a likely new coalition arrangement.

The financial clout behind Prosperous Armenia will likely come into play in the election, and there is little doubt that the Party will overcome the threshold to be represented in the Parliament. The Party is also able to secure a number of seats through the single candidate constituency elections that compliment the proportional list. The leader of the Party, Gagik Tsarukian, will in fact run in his own constituency uncontested. Tsarukian dismisses accusations that he is in politics for financial gain. Speaking in Etchmiadzin during the campaign Tsurakian said, “Many say that I benefit from my participation in politics. I need nothing for myself. I just want people to have a job, to live well, not to leave Armenia, for the youth not to get disappointed and found their corresponding job in the state and realized their ideas.”  Prosperous Armenia may end up increasing its share of both votes and seats in the election.

The same cannot be said for the third coalition Party, the Rule of Law Party (Orinats Erkir – OEK),  headed by Artur Baghdasarian. Baghdasarian, a charismatic politician who for a long time was seen a fresh breeze in Armenian politics,  who was also a candidate in the 2008 Presidential election, and polled in a respectable third place in the first round. In  the second round however he threw his weight behind Serzh Sargsyan, in a move that disappointed some of his supporters, and alienated much of the opposition. Baghdasarian then accepted the post of Secretary of the National Security Council. Some observers consider that by accepting this appointment Baghdasarian may have satisfied his political ego, but at the same time committed political suicide because the post left him little contact with the people, and his party became completely overshadowed by its other coalition partners. Baghdasarian has also not been willing to allow other important personalities a role in his party which has narrowed down his party’s appeal, especially as his own popularity waned. This has reflected itself in the Party’s election list for the 2012 elections that many consider uninspiring.

In the election campaign, the party has reverted to the positions that in previous years stood it in good stead with the electorate. Speaking at a rally in the centre of Yerevan Baghdasarian said “Our goals are noble, and our adopted course, righteous. We want for our country to live by the force of law. We are confident that the Orinats Yerkir Party and the tens of thousands of supporters, who stand alongside it, will do everything possible so that our ideas reach everyone.” For good measure Baghasarian distanced himself from some of the darker forces in Armenian politics. “Orinats Yerkir Party is as clear as light. We have no connection with plunder, robberies, and blood in Armenia,” he told his supporters.

Rule of Law, was the fourth largest party in the last parliament having obtained 9 seats in parliament, in contrast to 19 seats in the 2003 elections. In the 2008 presidential election, Baghdasarian placed third with 17.7% of the vote according to final official results. However most observers think that Baghdasarian may in this election be fighting for his political life and that his  Party will not win enough votes to overcome the 5% threshold to be eligible for seats in the parliament.

Overall it is likely that the three coalition partners will have less seats in the new Parliament than has been the case in the last five years. One of the Parties, the Rule of Law, may not make it into Parliament at all. Negotiating a new coalition agreement may also not be so simple. The role that will be played by the new Prosperous Armenia politician Vartan Oskanyan, is still not clear.

The first, and perhaps the most important test for the coalition, will be however connected with its ability to deliver free and fair elections that will give the political system in general a legitimacy that it has to some extent lacked. The intentions here are yet not clear. The President, Prime Minister and others have given rock solid assurances that they intend to.

At a meeting with his Party’s candidates and campaign officials on 9 April  in Tsakhadzor, President Sargsyan was quoted as saying “For us, the representatives of the ruling powers, the situation is dual: we want to get many votes, but we are also responsible for the others who want to get votes. We are responsible for our, as well as our partners’, allies’, the coalition’s and the opposition’s actions. Because no one is going to make any difference on who the guilty ones are, who cast a shadow over the elections – everything will be prescribed to Armenia and I ask you to especially take this into account.” 

The seriousness with which the government coalition parties are campaigning is a good sign, and there is in the election a competitive environment despite of some misgivings. The pressure to resort to old bad habits will however increase as the election gets nearer, and the performance of the coalition in its promise to deliver free and fair elections, will be known soon, but not just yet.

This is the second in a series of briefings on the 2012 Parliamentary Elections in Armenia, prepared by LINKS Analysis. This article may be quoted and/or reproduced in part or full as long as a clear attribution to the source is included with a reference to this website.

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source: LINKS Analysis (c)