Analysis: Sunday’s vote was Groundhog Day for Armenian politics

Analysis: Sunday’s vote was Groundhog Day for Armenian politics

Photolure

Another election, another disappointment

The New Year in Armenia began with a new election in Yerevan, which the opposition again branded as fraudulent. Nothing new about that.

The seat in parliament from constituency N10, which remained vacant since pro-opposition tycoon Khachatur Sukiasyan resigned his MP’s mandate in September, was contested by three candidates, including oppositionist Nikol Pashinyan, currently in jail as his trial is continuing on 2008 post-election violence-related charges, Ara Simonyan from the National Accord party and Marxist Party leader David Hakobyan.

(Khachatur Sukiasyan went into hiding to avoid arrest after the deadly clashes between opposition demonstrators and security forces following the February 2008 presidential election in which he supported the opposition’s candidate, ex-president Levon Ter-Petrosyan. He surrendered to authorities in early September and after being jailed briefly was set free pending his trial. The businessman, who immediately after that resigned his parliament seat, left abroad for medical treatment.)

The by-election in the constituency, which traditionally returned Sukiasyan to the legislature, took place according to the same scenario as all elections in Armenia. Which is to say: Not a good day for democratic process. There were a few cases when obstacles were raised to the work of the media, mainly newspapers, covering the vote. A major case of violence was reported in polling station 10/09 where one of Pashinyan’s campaign managers Petros Makeyan, his son Karen and Pashinyan’s proxy at the station Suren Martirosyan were beaten up and hospitalized with injuries. Petros Makeyan suffered a broken nose. Several observers, including Armenian Helsinki Association President Mikael Danielyan also reportedly suffered violence.

In the end, the least-known candidate won, in a vote that drew less that 1 in 4 eligible voters.

When Sukiasyan regained the seat in May 2007, 53 percent of the precinct voted.

Some explain Sunday’s turnout on indifference, but many point to the New Year Holiday as a primary cause. The vote fell on the last day of Armenia’s first-ever official extended winter holiday, as the country had in effect been dormant from December 28-January 10.

Sunday’s election attended by only 13,380 voters may be seen as a barometer on the wilting energy of Armenia’s opposition. It was, surely, a mirror reflecting an ugly side of Armenian politics that is seen over and over.

Ter-Petrosyan’s Armenian National Congress (ANC) that backed Pashinyan in his election bid said in a statement issued Monday that “nothing has changed in Armenia’s political culture”.

“If the authorities decide, then any person unknown to politics may be ‘elected’…,” it said.

It is hard to disagree with the opposition viewpoint. It should be added, though, that similar accusations were leveled against ANC’s man when he took the throne in 1996, sparking Armenia’s first post-independence uprising over a disputed election and engendering a succession of national shame on Election Day.

Artur Sakunts, head of the Vanadzor-based regional branch of the Armenian Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly, called the Sunday by-election “another fraudulent election” that he said reduced the “gangster state” into a “hooligan-based” state.

“Imagine in a boxing ring a man with tied hands who is up against a professional boxer,” said Sakunts, speaking figuratively about the January 10 by-election.

The well-known human rights campaigner from Vanadzor monitored the elections at all polling stations. He insists that numerous violations took place and demands that the results in at least three polling stations be annulled.

The winning candidate’s party, meanwhile, rejected speculation that the election was a fraud.

“The elections were free and transparent, all those are made up stories,” chairman of the National Accord party Artashes Geghamyan told ArmeniaNow.

The ruling coalition did not have its candidate at the election, however indirectly supported Geghamyan’s fellow party member, and this is despite the opposition stance that Geghamyan had before 2008. During the 2007 parliamentary election campaign, Serzh Sargsyan, then leading the Republican Party in the election, called Geghamyan “a man as empty as a drum”. However, last month President Sargsyan attended an Artashes Geghamyan book presentation, after which the opposition was convinced that the authorities would support Geghamyan’s party man.

This was perhaps the biggest peculiarity of the latest election – that the ruling party did not put up a candidate, but rather threw in its support. Otherwise it was little different from almost all previous ones – even journalists subjected to violence were the same – freelance photo reporter Gagik Shamshyan, Zhamanak newspaper reporter Marine Kharatyan.

“It would be surprising if anything changed, since if there is one man in the country on whom everybody else depends, then laws cannot work in this country and even if we have a perfect electoral code, all the same we will not have proper elections until the rules of the game change,” political analyst Yervand Bozoyan told ArmeniaNow.