Author: Fuad HILALOV
Since the results were easily predictable, the parliamentary elections held on April 2 in Armenia did not promise any intrigue from the very beginning. The results were of interest only because the elections were the first after the constitutional reforms of 2015 enabling the transition to a parliamentary form of government after the term of the incumbent president is expired. Theoretically, the parliament should receive full powers starting next year. It will elect the president, who should only be endowed with representative functions. The parliament will also appoint the prime minister and the government. The armed forces will be under the government control, and during the war time, the prime minister will become a commander-in-chief.
Pro-government political analysts have tried to define this transition process as yet another step towards liberalisation and democracy. However, it was clear from the very beginning of discussions that Serzh Sargsyan was trying to extend his power as the next prime minister, since he will be able to lead the country exactly as much as he can control the parliament. Thus, the recent parliamentary elections in Armenia have explicitly determined a political force that would define both the domestic and foreign policy of the country.
In addition to constitutional and governmental reforms, Armenia has also changed the law on elections but as a result nobody has fully understood the voting process, including the Central Election Commission (CEC). Apparently, besides general party lists in the electoral districts, there were also so-called rating lists of representatives of political parties and blocs.
It is not surprising therefore, that all the polling stations worked only within the country. In fact, the Armenian citizens outside of the country, which according to rough estimates amount to the third of the total population, could not cast votes. The position of decision-makers is understandable, as it is irrational to expect any support from the people who left the country for various reasons: they have already cast their votes by leaving the country.
The employees of diplomatic missions had to vote using the recently adopted electronic voting system, which, according to the CEC, was used only by thousand people. In general, the introduction of electronic technologies, funded by the EU and the US, was another typical "innovation" of these elections. Before the elections, the deputy chairman of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia, Armen Ashotian, said: "This is a technological revolution in political terms. We are one of the few countries introducing a cutting-edge electoral system. It is the best of its kind not only from a legal point of view but also as a quite complex technical solution. Therefore, it is clear that thousands of technical devices, security cameras, personal identification devices may sometimes fail to work." However, the "technological revolution" so praised by Ashotian has simply failed just before the elections: various polling stations have signaled about the malfunction of devices designed to recognize the fingerprints of voters. Even the efforts of President Sargsyan were unsuccessful, and he was forced to put all his fingers into this toy, which had already been presented to him almost as the last technological achievement. However, all his attempts were in vain: the device did not want to identify any of the fingers of the president.
One of the Russian journalists, who was watching the whole process of identification with interest, could not stop himself from asking Mr. Sargsyan how long it would last. His answer was quite capacious: "It's not in my competence." The failures continued even after the president handed over his passport to the commission representative in the hope to express his political will somehow. However, the technological system persistently refused to recognise the Armenian president. The same happened to other political leaders: the first president of Armenia and the leader of the Armenian National Congress, Levon Ter-Petrosian, and one of the leaders of the Ohanian-Raffi-Oskanian bloc, ex-foreign minister, Vartan Oskanian.
According to the results of the elections, the ruling RPA received 49.17% of the votes and a chance to have a constitutional majority (58 mandates out of 105) in the parliament. It is followed by the Tsarukian bloc, which received 27.35% of the votes and the 31st place, respectively. The Elk (Exit) bloc got 7.78% of the votes and 9 seats in the new parliament. The ARFD Dashnaktsutyun party has also managed to get into the legislative body of Armenia with 6.58% of the votes, or 7 seats in the parliament. According to the CEC, the overall turnout was 60.86%.
So, what were the factors that influenced the outcome of the parliamentary elections in Armenia?
First, the ruling party is controlling a colossal administrative resource, which has been widely used during the elections. Both before and during the voting, the administrations of the districts and cities were very confident in influencing the elections. Another important aspect was the psychological factor. Indeed, exactly a year ago, on April 2, 2016, began the "four-day war". Following yet another Armenian provocation, the Azerbaijani military launched a counteroffensive and dealt a crushing blow to the occupying forces along the front line. Incidentally, the election day coincided with the anniversary of this date, and the Armenian leadership tried to make the most of this through scaring its electorate as much as possible. There were statements such as: "If you do not choose us, the Azerbaijani troops will reach Sevan or even Yerevan." The RPA tried to demonstrate itself as a defender of the Armenian nation.
So, Prime Minister Karen Karapetian was chosen by the ruling party to be a "rescue circle" during the elections. Thanks to his efforts, RPA has managed to get rid of a certain group of the most odious and anti-Armenian political figures with explicitly criminal past and present. During the pre-election campaign, Karapetian also promised to attract multibillion investments to the country speaking about some sort of club or fund supported by Russian investors. However, both Russian and Armenian analysts have immediately dubbed these promises as false ones.
It is clear that the so-called club of Russian investors simply means a dozen of Armenian entrepreneurs working in Russia and led by the namesake of the Armenian prime minister, the head of the Tashir Group, Samvel Karapetian. Most of his business is already in Armenia. These include shopping and entertainment centers, a chain of restaurants and so on. Incidentally, Tashir Group, actively backed by one of the Cypriot off-shores, is also miraculously controlling the power networks of Armenia. In other words, speaking about vague prospects of grandiose investments, the Armenian prime minister did not specifically indicate which spheres of economic activity they would affect. Probably because there are no such spheres at all...
Meanwhile, thanks to the Western technology and a relatively less tarnished reputation, Karapetian has managed to become the "public face" of RPA and a warrantor of its victory. However, in the future, he can turn into a serious threat for the RPA leader, President Sargsyan. Backing Sargsyan today and helping him, Karapetian can easily get a real taste of the power and be Sargsyan’s serious rival next year, when the president plans to lead the country, this time as a prime minister.
Other new "secrets of success" of the ruling party of Armenia were the votes cast in absentia and the pre-election bribery campaign, including the distribution of money, products and goods, as well as the repayment of debts for utility services. Both local and international observers, including the Civilian Observer Initiative, the OSCE / ODIHR, the European Parliament and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) missions, as well as the US Embassy in Yerevan, unanimously indicated large-scale cases of voter bribery.
Analysts believe that the authorities were able to influence almost half of the capital population, and an impressive majority of citizens in the regions. It's incredible but an average citizen of Armenia, driven to poverty by the policies of existing authorities, sells his voice for 20,000 drams, or for $40. "I do not agree that there was massive bribery and so on. Yes, there were such cases but it was a bargain by mutual consent, and no one forced anyone. If there is a crime, then it was a mutual crime. So, the society is worthy of the parliament, which it has elected," said Armenian political scientist Gagik Ambarian in his interview with Lragir.
Massive cases of bribery are also incriminated to another political force, the Tsarukian bloc, which is the holder of the second largest number of seats in the new parliament. Along with bribery, Tsarukian & Co. also tried to attract votes to his bloc with grandiose promises. Thus, the businessman has promised to attract large-scale investments ($15 billion) to the country. This is a huge amount for Armenia - the country's GDP is only $10.4 billion. In fact, Tsarukian has broad ties in business local and foreign circles he did not disclose how he would attract these investments. Also, it is not clear why he has not done it before, if he had a chance.
We believe that his ambiguous relationship with the leadership of Armenia plays a significant role in the Tsarukian’s "success formula”. When he was the leader of the Prosperous Armenia Party calling himself an "alternative to power", Tsarukian was carried away by opposition statements and, after passing the "red line", was forced to leave the political field. However, a few months before the election, he again turned out to be useful to the authorities and, thanks to his financial resources, filled the political niche, winning the votes of voters greatly disappointed by the policies of both the authorities and the opposition. It is therefore, safe to assume that in the new parliament, Tsarukian's political bloc will portray the opposition but at the same time behave obediently and easily to the rulers.
The pro-Western bloc "Elk" also is assigned a role of "pocket opposition". The political biography of its leader, Nikol Pashinian, gives grounds to consider him more a master of behind-the-scenes games and "media-killership" rather than an ideologist. The fact that "Elk" has got into the parliament is considered by analysts as an attempt of President Sargsyan to demonstrate political pluralism and democracy in governing the country. The presence of a bloc in the parliament may be a concession to Western supervisors and European financial structures, which Armenia often needs very badly.
Speaking about financial assistance to Armenia, the Armenian Diaspora is involuntarily recalled, which also participated in these elections. But she participated as an observer represented by the Canadian director of Armenian origin Atom Egoyan, his wife, actress Arsine Khanjyan, rock singer Serge Tankian and others. The Armenian press has already called them a "Beirut landing party", "ahpars" (‘brother’ in Armenian). According to the Armenian press, the real goal of the "Ahpars" was to bring an ultimatum from the Diaspora to the powers: the main political organization of the Armenians is the ARF Dashnaktsutyun and they must have seats in the parliament! Naturally, Sargsyan could not fail to fulfill this order, and many explain this passage to the legislative body of the Dashnaks with minimal indicators. Moreover, the RPA has no reason to be afraid of Dashnaktsutyun anyway, because there is an agreement on cooperation between the two parties. Although it was ridiculous to watch how "the oldest Armenian party" was forced to settle for a minority. But still the Diaspora did not offend, because otherwise it was possible to pay a political career, as it happened with the first Armenian president Levon Ter-Petrosyan.
By the way, his election campaign was built upon the issue of the settlement of the Karabakh conflict and establishing good-neighborly relations with Azerbaijan and Turkey. When he was the head of state, he often spoke about the fact that without the settlement of the Karabakh problem, the development of Armenia and its formation as a state were impossible. At the same time, we should not forget that the occupation of Azerbaijani lands began precisely during the presidency of Ter-Petrosyan, and the role of the "dove of peace" is not very suitable for him. Anyway, his political bloc failed to get into the parliament, and he explained his loss as follows: "In a country where the largest share of national wealth is concentrated in the hands of a narrow circle of people and the people are in poverty, the elections would be political illiteracy." These elections, most likely, were the last in the political life of the first president of Armenia. The outcome of elections once again demonstrated that the Armenian society is not ready for peace and normal relations with its neighbors.
The analysis of the parliamentary elections can be summarized by quoting Levon Ter-Petrosian: "We have to wait until RPA, PAP, ARF and Elk develop the Armenian economy painstakingly, provide billions of investments, strengthen the Armenian army, stop the growing emigration and settle the main challenge that our people is facing - the Karabakh conflict".