Clear Election Run for Armenian President
Armenians will have a choice of eight candidates when they vote in a presidential ballot on February 18, but few doubt that President Serzh Sargsyan will win re-election easily.
The most significant opposition figures – Levon Ter-Petrosyan, leader of the Armenian National Congress, and Gagik Tsarukyan of Prosperous Armenia – have declined to take part, leaving the way clear for Sargsyan.
Apart from Sargsyan, the big names in this election are Hrant Bagratyan, an ex-prime minister who now sits in parliament; Raffi Hovhannisyan, a former foreign minister and head of Heritage, a small opposition party; Paruyr Hayrikyan, a Soviet-era dissident who now leads the Union for National Self-Determination.
The other candidates are lower-profile – Arman Melikyan, a former foreign minister of Nagorny Karabakh; Aram Harutyunyan, head of the National Accord party; Andrias Ghukasyan, a political analyst and director of a Yerevan radio station; and Vardan Sedrakyan, a specialist in epic poetry.
Analysts say the president is the favourite to win partly because he controls the administrative mechanisms of state, and has access to greater financial and media resources than the other seven candidates put together.
However, they also note that the opposition parties have failed to put up a credible challenge.
“The opposition was simply not able to prepare for this election in time. It was unable to unite and choose a candidate,” Stepan Grigoryan, a political analyst who heads the Centre for Globalisation and Regional Cooperation, said.
Ter-Petrosyan, who was Armenia’s first post-independence president, told the Chorrord Ishkhanutyun newspaper that he felt too old to take part, having turned 68 at the start of January. His Armenian National Congress then announced it would be boycotting the poll.
Tsarukyan had been seen as a major opposition hope, but in December, his Prosperous Armenia party announced it was not fielding a candidate. This came a few days after Tsarukyan had a meeting with Sargsyan, though both men have denied there was any pressure not to stand. (See Armenian Opposition Party Shuns Key Election.)
Prosperous Armenia is the second-largest party in parliament after Sargsyan’s Republican Party.
Another major opposition party, Dashnaktsutyun, also refused to put forward a candidate, saying only that it would not be supporting Sargsyan.
Grigoryan questioned the opposition tactic of boycotting the polls.
“They say they won’t take part because they know the results will be rigged like were in the May 2012 parliamentary election. But… if the opposition thinks the election was rigged, why did it take up seats in parliament and thus effectively sanction the results?” he asked.
Grigoryan pointed to the experience of neighbouring Georgia, where an opposition coalition ousted President Mikhail Saakashvili’s party in a surprise electoral win in October 2012.
“That experience shows that if the opposition wins, no amount of rigging can prevent a change of government,” he said.
In the face of the boycott, Bagratyan was left to offer himself as a unifying figure for opposition voters.
“If I have decided to take part in the election, that means I’m confident I can win. Boycotting the election is the same thing as giving it away to the government,” he said.
The Heritage Party’s Hovhannisyan also presented himself as a unifying figure, and appealed to supporters of the main opposition parties to back him.
Sargsyan’s supporters do not regard their opponents as much of a threat.
“To unite or not to unite; to take part in the election or not – these are question for the opposition itself,” Eduard Sharmazanov, deputy speaker of parliament and a member of the Republican Party, said. “Independently of that, we are certain that our candidate President Serzh Sargsyan will be victorious.”
Manvel Sargsyan, a political analyst and head of the Armenian Centre for National and International Studies, said this election marked a significant change in Armenian politics. In previous elections, opposition parties always urged their supporters to vote, and reserved allegations of vote-rigging for afterwards.
“This time it hasn’t happened, and that’s because people have just stopped taking it seriously,” he said. “The opposition forces have stated openly that they aren’t in a position to change the government through elections and won’t take part. The old tactics are no longer relevant. But as for what needs to be done, that’s still under discussion. The old way has broken down, and we need to create the space for a new one. At the moment, there’s a sort of vacuum.”
Vahe Harutyunyan is a freelance journalist in Armenia.