Political End or New Beginning?: Ter-Petrosyan plans for reformatting opposition bloc draw mixed reactions

The announcement by the leader of the opposition Armenian National Congress (ANC) Levon Ter-Petrosyan of plans to set up a new social-liberal party on the platform of the current opposition bloc has elicited mixed reactions, with some representatives of the government calling it the sign of the former president’s political fiasco.

In an interview with the pro-opposition Chorrord Inknishkhanutyun daily on Thursday, Ter-Petrosyan said: “The Congress has fulfilled its role of a movement relentlessly struggling against the gangster state, but this movement needs serious institutional changes to continue its mission and struggle till the victorious end… Considering the tendencies of political developments in the coming years, I think it is now time for various political forces and non-partisan individuals of the Congress to merge into one single political party.”

The ANC has been accused of dispersing its powerful revolutionary sentiments that Ter-Petrosyan managed to mobilize at one point in 2008. Back then his rallies – in the run-up to the presidential election – were attended by tens of thousands of people and were accompanied with calls for the overthrow of the regime. The ANC formed several months after the dispersal of post-election demonstrations on March 1, 2008 continued its rallies for some time, before the movement eventually died out as fewer and fewer people would turn out for the events.

However, the number of Ter-Petrosyan supporters has sharply decreased especially after the opposition leader engaged in what essentially amounted to political bargaining with representatives of the regime he had harshly criticized and labeled as a bunch of criminals for years. First, his representatives conducted fruitless “consultations” with President Serzh Sargsyan’s political coalition, then with representatives of tycoon Gagik Tsarukyan, the leader of the Prosperous Armenia Party. Some experts believe it was due to this bargaining that the ANC got seven mandates in the National Assembly in the May 2012 elections. However, dissent within the ANC ranks grew even stronger after that.

Several major political parties and individuals making up the alliance decided to quit it formally, others left the alliance by the de facto absence. And it is this situation that eventually must have led to Ter-Petrosyan’s decision last December not to make another presidential bid.

Experts estimate that it was then that Ter-Petrosyan completely disoriented and ‘dispersed’ the pro-opposition part of the society that pinned their hopes on that bigger segment of the opposition. Ter-Petrosyan, however, stopped short of urging members and supporters of his alliance to boycott the elections.

The announced plans for the establishment of a new party of a social-liberal orientation immediately sparked speculation about the imminent dissolution of a number of political parties that currently make up the ANC. These are the Armenian National Movement (ANM) and the People’s Party of Armenia (PPA) and several other major parties.

Justice Minister Hrayr Tovmasyan was quick to point out in this regard that if the members of these political parties join the new party of Ter-Petrosyan, these parties will have to be formally dissolved.

ANM leader Aram Makukyan and PPA leader Stepan Dmirchyan indicated, however, that they wanted their parties to continue to exist. However, it is possible that at some point they will change their minds and join the nascent party.

The Armenian opposition certainly needs reformatting if it wants to continue to fight for influence over government decision-making. Perhaps this reformatting will change the paradoxical situation that now exists in Armenia when a considerable number of people are critical of the ruling force, but this majority has no powerful political force to expresses its interests.

Despite the existing frustration about the social and economic policies of the ruling party among a considerable part of the population, people apparently see no other equally powerful opposition party to vote for. In fact, Ter-Petrosyan has failed to live up to the expectations of many pro-opposition members of the public.

Deputy Speaker of the Armenian Parliament, ruling Republican Party of Armenia spokesman Eduard Sharmazanov insisted on Thursday that by his move Ter-Petrosyan is only trying to save the ANC from a collapse. He added that only time will show how effective this format will be for the opposition political force. For the time being, Sharmazanov said, the ANC has turned into a mere group of supporters of Ter-Petrosyan and bloc coordinator Levon Zurabyan.