Editorial: Good words Mr. President, now put feet to your prayers

President Serzh Sargsyan has made laudable proclamations over the past few days, including issuing orders that, if earnestly implemented, would advance the possibility of fair elections over the next two years – something Armenia has not seen since its first poll 20 years ago.

Monday, the president reminded high-ranking police officials that the republic’s law enforcement is obliged to not wield power out of a sense of political loyalty to the ruling regime.

In calling for reform, Sargsyan said he expects police to enforce the law impartially.

The president’s awareness of his need to deliver the message is indication enough that police have from time to time strayed from their public servant mandate – as was recently demonstrated in department head comments stemming from March 3 events in which three opposition party MPs accused police of overstepping authority.

The address to police came just two days after President Sargsyan acknowledged that Armenia’s opposition bloc is not all wrong in demands it has made on his government.

“There are people in both the opposition and government who have vast experience and who know well what the state and statehood are, and are able to see the distinction between the homeland, statehood, national problems and political ambitions,” said Sargsyan.

In terms of political debate in Armenia, this is a huge and rare concession, and certainly raises the level of dialogue far above Levon Ter-Petrosyan’s tired rants for resignations of top officials, including the prime minister.

The president’s remarks came during the same weekend in which he informed his cabinet that he expects immediate reform that will change the course of a social downslide felt especially by the country’s vulnerable – a growing demographic, as questionable price hikes and unavoidable inflation has squeezed budgets and frayed patience.

Whether political pandering, or genuine civic responsibility, Sargsyan should be given credit for at least admitting failures in performance and weaknesses in his institutions – a confession of the struggle of his office which predecessors of his post would have denied.

The political opposition is predictably skeptical of a born-again Serzh – and understandably so considering that Sargsyan came to power in 2008 as a result of brazen vote rigging in which his party paid for votes, intimidated election officials, and in at least one case even kidnapped an opposition proxy. While we will never know the true vote, even those generous enough to grant Sargsyan’s appeal, or power, maintain that a fair election would have resulted in at least a runoff with Ter-Petrosyan, rather than the first-round victory in which Sargsyan was awarded 52.86 percent of the vote.

That he talks fair play, while keeping victims of his own oppression locked up, places believability on shaky ground.

Still, let us emphasize the remarkable fact that, finally, an Armenian president has neither buried his head in the sand, nor sought to deflect blame when the armor cracks.

There is no justified ends when the means is violation of human rights; we need not forgive the way Serzh Sargsyan took office, in order to appreciate the way he has administered it in recent days.

“I am sure that the development of our country will be consistent, continuous and in the end we will have a democratic country. This is our goal, and we will be resolute on the way of achieving this goal,” President Sargsyan said.

Those words should be stenciled onto campaign literature a year from now, during democracy’s most honored privilege, in which the party he leads has routinely and successfully abused the process and the privilege.