By Hayk Khalatyan
The recent parliamentary elections in Armenia recorded sweeping victory by the current authorities, the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) and its coalition partner and rival Prosperous Armenia. These two, along with the third member of the current coalition Orinats Yerkir (which was the only ruling party seeing worse results against 2007 vote), grabbed 112 out of 131 mandates of Armenia’s National Assembly.
However, the May 6 vote should be viewed not as a triumph of the authorities, but rather the defeat of the opposition, in particular, its radical wing represented by the Armenian National Congress (ANC). The elections demonstrated the full range of paradoxes and absurdity of Armenia’s political life: despite deteriorating social-economic situation in the country, the current authorities get increasingly large number of votes.
This hit the society particularly hard, given the intensification of opposition mood among people, recognized even by the authorities ahead of election campaign; still, the opposition failed to make use of this.
6 out of 9 political parties running for the elections were opposition. Apart from obvious outsiders of the race, the Communist party of Armenia, the Democratic Party of Armenia and the United Armenians party, the remaining three, ANC, Heritage and ARF Dashnaktsutyun representing different sectors of the opposition domain hoped they would manage to avail of the favorable conditions and take the power hegemony away from RPA.
Of these, only Heritage was more or less successful to secure approximately the same number of votes as in 2007 – 5.79%. Also, it is worth noting that during the 2007 parliamentary elections Heritage gained this result independently, while now it ran for the parliament jointly with another opposition force, Free Democrats. Also, Heritage involved some public sector figures in its electoral list in 2012. Therefore, the Free Democrats had a significant contribution to Heritage’s outcome in terms of their organizational potential.
Meanwhile, Heritage’s chief achievement is that the party’s result was approaching that of the ANC’s (7.1%), which demonstrates that voters supporting the opposition are starting to perceive Heritage and its leader Raffi Hovannisian as an alternative to ANC’s Levon Ter-Petrossian and his team.
As to Dashnaktsutyun’s failure at the elections, this was caused by several reasons. In 2007, the party gained 13.1% of votes (only 2% less than Prosperous Armenia who came second in the race), while in 2012 elections it came only 5th with 5.73% of votes. Twice as less cutback on the votes may be argued by some loss of administrative resources (Dashnaktsutyun was part of the ruling coalition in 2007), as well as the reduced public interest to national issues, the traditional hobby-horse of the party. Instead, the social factor appeared in the spotlight, reflected in large-scale populist pledges of the candidates, as well as total, and unfortunately, quite efficient use of electoral bribery.
However, ANC which has claimed to be the major, no-alternative counterbalance and rival of the current authorities over the past years was most struck by the elections.
Since its establishment in 2008, ANC’s popularity has faced ups and downs; starting March 2011, when the opposition bloc began a political dialogue with the authorities, it saw consistent decline.
As a result, ANC faced the May elections with lowest rating ever, and the voting outcome came to prove it.
ANC leader, former president of Armenia Levon Ter-Petrossian officially gained 351,222 votes (21,5%) at presidential elections in 2008, while the ANC list he headed got only 69 140 votes (17,57%) at Yerevan Municipal Council elections. This is the situation in Yerevan, the capital city which has always been more pro-opposition than provinces, and which the opposition rested their hopes upon.
Logically, these results were manifested in May 6 parliamentary elections, when ANC, again with Ter-Petrossian on top, got 106 910 votes (7,1%).
While ANC blamed the government for “electoral fraud” during the previous voting, it now had no doubts over the results of May elections, at least with regard to the ballot count.
Decline in ANC’s popularity was conditioned by wavering of its leaders, particularly Ter-Petrossian who lacked determination in their fight against the current authorities. Playing games with representatives of the ruling wings, RPA and the political dialogue process, on the one hand and Prosperous Armenia and inter-party anti-forgery election headquarters, on the other hand also contributed to this.
According to some Armenian experts, the May 6 elections became the “swan song” for ANC and Levon Ter-Petrossian. In addition to some external issues, ANC faces internal problems as well. Some prominent figures of the Armenian National Movement, the core driving force of ANC, quit the opposition bloc, marking the first signs of unrest within the once united bloc. These figures disagreed on ANC’s new course and established the above-mentioned liberal-oriented Free Democrats party.
The electoral list of ANC further outlined the existing problems, with some political member-parties quitting the bloc. Then rumors spread (later to be confirmed) that one of its most known members, leader of Republic party Aram Sargsyan will withdraw from ANC immediately after the elections. Following Sargsyan’s dismissal statement, some others political member-forces of ANC were said to be considering their withdrawal as well.
So, one can state that ANC exhausted itself and lost the role of the country’s key opposition force following the May 6 vote and post-election developments. However, the hardest blow for ANC is that the public no longer perceives it as the sole alternative to the current authorities, which is fatal for ANC, taking into account the past of its leader and his team. The thing is that many supporters of ANC voted not to favor Levon Ter-Petrossian and the Armenian National Movement but to oppose the authorities and their policy.
Meanwhile, the public hopes that a new opposition force will emerge shortly in Armenia, to become a real political rival to the authorities and help the country out of the three-president triangle it appeared in. Anyway, competition in any sphere is known to boost development and progress.