Armenian Opposition Pins Hopes On Partnership

ARMENIAN OPPOSITION PINS HOPES ON PARTNERSHIP

EurasiaNet, NY
May 18 2007

"The fate of Armenia depends on one person, and this one person
is you," read sheets of paper pasted on the base of a monument in
Yerevan’s Freedom Square. But as Armenia’s opposition pushes ahead
with plans to contest the May 12 parliamentary vote results, emphasis
is increasingly being put on the need for joint action.

Turnout, however, was low at a May 18 pan-opposition rally to protest
alleged election result falsification; the numbers of attendees were
smaller than at an initial demonstration held immediately following
election day. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].

Ironically, though, the demonstration marked one of the few times
during the 2007 election season that Armenia’s scattered opposition
has managed to combine forces. Members from the two opposition parties
that gained seats in parliament — Orinats Yerkir (Country of Law)
and Heritage — joined the more hardline Republic Party-New Times
Party-Impeachment bloc alliance in the square. The People’s Party
of Armenia, led by former presidential candidate Stepan Demirchian,
also took part.

Observers have said the failure to form such a coalition for the May
12 parliamentary vote partly explains the opposition’s weak showing
in the new National Assembly. That history of discord could put long
odds on the parties’ ability to now join together to contest the
election results.

The one point on which most opposition parties appear to agree is that
the official preliminary election results, which handed pro-government
parties complete control of the legislature, were rigged. [For details,
see the Eurasia Insight archive].

At a May 16 press conference, Heritage Party leader Raffi Hovannisian
claimed that his party had received not 80,000 votes (roughly 5.82
percent of the vote), but 250,000. "We all saw how after midnight [on
May 13] that 250,000 was reduced to 80,000 through invalid ballots,
miscounts and other means," Hovannisian claimed. "And when European
observers declare progress, perhaps the progress is that 250,000
[votes] were not reduced to 25,000, but that 80,000 [of the actual
votes] remained." [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].

Hovannisian added, however that the party’s "documented proof" of such
falsification is by itself "insufficient." For that reason, he said,
the party will share its findings with "our partners."

Orinats Yerkir Party leader Artur Baghdasarian, who recently
announced his intention to run for president in 2008, is one of
those partners. Baghdasarian’s party won 6.85 percent of the vote,
based on official results.

In an appeal to "all political forces of Armenia that have concrete
evidence about electoral fraud and can provide it to us," Baghdasarian
announced plans on May 16 to contest those results before the
Constitutional Court. The onetime parliamentary speaker claimed that
results in some 400 polling stations nationwide were falsified.

"How is it possible that the party [Orinats Yerkir] gets 70-150
votes in one village, and no vote in the neighboring one?" he asked
reporters. "It’s impossible. Simply people were intimidated. Our
proxies left the polling stations half way through the elections.

They phoned me personally and said: "Mr. Baghdasarian, we are
abandoning the polling station . . . because we will still have to
live in this village."

Nonetheless, although both opposition parties claim the election
results are inaccurate — Heritage Party’s Hovannisian calling the
election process unbecoming not only to Armenians, but to "humans
in general" — neither has indicated it will give up its seats in
parliament.

Orinats Yerkir has termed boycotting parliament an incorrect way of
struggling against the government; an earlier opposition boycott in
2004 proved glaringly unsuccessful.

Hovannisian, the US-born Heritage Party leader and a former foreign
minister, stated that his party is keeping its options open — for
now. "Everything is possible under this sun, especially in Armenia,
but we are ready to do our work both in parliament and outside it,
using all possibilities, rights and powers given to us," he said.

Some opposition members have also taken up that declaration. As a
prelude to the May 18 protest, Nikol Pashinian, an Impeachment bloc
leader, staged a two-day round-the-clock sit-in in Liberty Square to
protest the election results. Former world boxing champion Israyel
Hakobkokhian, who ran for parliament as a non-partisan candidate,
has declared a hunger strike.

Government officials, however, have given little sign of noticing these
actions. "People gave such big promises during the campaign period
that now they have to explain their failure [to get into parliament]
somehow," commented Parliament Speaker Tigran Torosian at Yerevan’s
Tesaket (Viewpoint) Club, shrugging off organizers’ explanations for
the May 18 rally.

In response to the allegations of vote tampering, Central Election
Commission spokesperson Tsovinar Khachatrian repeated earlier
assurances that everything is "normal" with the vote count and results.

Since May 12, she told EurasiaNet, the Commission has received only
seven complaints about election results for both party lists and
first-past-the-post races. Recounts have "been implemented, with no
essential changes in the results," she said.

Meanwhile, the opposition parties protesting in Liberty Square have
scheduled their next demonstration for May 25.

Editor’s Note: Marianna Grigoryan is a reporter for the independent
online ArmeniaNow weekly in Yerevan.

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