Armenian Party Of Power Wins Parliamentary Elections

By Emil Danielyan

Eurasia Daily Monitor, DC
May 16 2007

Armenia’s main "party of power" scored a landslide victory in the
May 12 parliamentary elections that were essentially recognized as
legitimate by the West and significantly boosted Prime Minister Serge
Sarkisian’s chances of succeeding President Robert Kocharian early
next year. The development is a huge blow to the country’s divided
opposition that has again alleged large-scale electoral fraud. Only
two opposition parties, both of them pro-Western, managed to win
seats in the new Armenian parliament.

According to the Central Election Commission (CEC), Sarkisian’s
Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) won about 33% of votes cast under
the system of proportional representation and swept at least half
of the nationwide single-member constituencies. The HHK will thus
directly control 65 parliament seats and rely on the backing of
several non-partisan government-connected lawmakers, giving it an
absolute majority in the 131-member National Assembly. The Prosperous
Armenia Party (BHK) of Gagik Tsarukian, a tycoon close to Kocharian,
came in a distant second, getting nearly 15% of the vote and at
least 25 parliament seats. It was followed by another pro-Kocharian
party, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), also known as
Dashnaktsutiun. The latter will be represented in the legislature by
16 deputies.

On the opposition side, the Orinats Yerkir (Country of Law) party
of former parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian and the Zharangutiun
(Heritage) party of U.S.-born former foreign minister Raffi Hovannisian
made the strongest showing. Official vote results showed them winning
nine and seven seats respectively. None of about a dozen other parties
passed the 5% vote threshold for entering the parliament under the
proportional system. These include the parties led by Kocharian’s
two main challengers in the 2003 presidential election, Artashes
Geghamian and Stepan Demirchian. The two populist leaders now look
set to be relegated to political sidelines, having paid the price of
their refusal to form electoral alliances with other opposition groups.

Virtually all opposition contenders have refused to accept the
official election outcome, saying that it was decided by the HHK’s
extensive government levers, unequal campaigning opportunities, voter
intimidation, and especially vote buying. Throughout election day
there were numerous reports of busloads of bribed people transported
to polling stations across the country. Some opposition leaders claim
that those people not only sold their votes to the HHK or the BHK but
also voted in place of hundreds of thousands of Armenians that live
and work abroad. Orinats Yerkir plans to appeal the official results in
the Constitutional Court, while Armenia’s three most radical opposition
groups have embarked on a campaign of anti-government street protests.

However, the radical opposition’s hopes for replicating the
post-election revolutions in neighboring Georgia and other former
Soviet republics were seriously dampened by the findings of some 400
election observers that were mainly deployed by the OSCE. The observer
mission, which also included parliamentarians from the Council of
Europe and the European Parliament, concluded in a May 13 preliminary
report that the elections were "an improvement from previous elections
and were conducted largely in accordance with international standards
for democratic elections." It was the most positive assessment of an
Armenian election ever made by Western observers.

The European Union swiftly welcomed and endorsed their verdict, with
the German presidency of the bloc noting "significant progress" in
Armenia’s democratization. "I congratulate the people of Armenia on the
improvements in the conduct of the parliamentary elections yesterday,"
the EU’s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, said in a separate May
13 statement. Both Solana and Germany indicated that the EU will deepen
ties with Armenia within its European Neighborhood Policy framework.

The U.S. State Department similarly welcomed an "improvement over
past elections," while cautioning that the vote "did not fully meet
international standards." Washington is now expected to release
the first major installment of $236 million in promised economic
assistance to Yerevan, which is part of the Bush administration’s
Millennium Challenge Account program.

More importantly, the Western reaction to the conduct of the poll is a
massive boost to the international reputation and democratic image of
Armenia’s top leaders, which was severely tarnished by past elections
that were marred by serious fraud. Their political opponents have
lost a weighty argument for challenging their legitimacy. With the
Armenian opposition demoralized and divided, Sarkisian can already
start preparing for next year’s presidential election. Kocharian
appears to have already agreed to hand over power to his most powerful
associate, but he is expected to try to stay in government in some
other capacity. Whether these plans sit well with Sarkisian remains

Assuming that there is friction between the two men, the election
outcome is a setback for Tsarukian’s BHK, which is widely seen
as Kocharian’s main tool for securing his political future. The
party clearly hoped to make a stronger showing on the back of its
leaders’ vast financial resources and populist appeal fuelled by his
distribution of "humanitarian assistance" to impoverished Armenians.

But even with what many view as wholesale vote buying, the BHK got
only 204,000 votes, or half the number of members it claims to have.

With the HHK in practically full control of the newly elected
parliament, Sarkisian will not be dependent on the BHK (and presumably
Kocharian) in forming a government, if he becomes president of the
republic. This also applies to Dashnaktsutiun. The nationalist party,
which is particularly influential in the worldwide Armenian Diaspora,
hoped to enhance its presence in government and, in particular,
gain the post of defense minister as a result of the elections. And
although Dashnaktsutiun has increased the number of its parliament
seats, it will not in a position to claim a bigger slice of the
government pie now. Its leaders effectively acknowledged this at a
joint news conference on May 15. The party may well pull out of the
governing coalition given the extent of the HHK landslide.

Sarkisian and other top Republicans have yet to publicly indicate
whether they are willing to form a coalition cabinet with the BHK
and/or Dashnaktsutiun or will share power only with Kocharian. The
decision has to be made before the end of this month.

(Haykakan Zhamanak, May 13, 16; Azg, May 15; Aravot, May 14;
Statements by the German presidency of the EU and Javier Solana,
May 13; Preliminary Report by the OSCE-led International Election
Observation Mission, May 13)

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress

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Emil Lazarian

โ€œI should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.โ€ - WS