Sargsyan, Kocharian, Ter-Petrossian and the 2008 Presidential Electi

Sargsyan, Kocharian, Ter-Petrossian and the 2008 Presidential
Election, According to US Diplomat in Armenia

09.03.2011 11:46

`Mounting evidence… has called into question the government’s claim
that PM Serzh Sargsyan won a legitimate first-round majority on Feb.
19 [2008]. This result, combined with the subsequent heavy-handed use
of force and declared State of Emergency, has left PM Sargsyan with a
severe crisis of legitimacy,’ writes then US Deputy Chief of Mission
(DCM) to Armenia Joseph Pennington in yet another cable – this one
dated Mar. 10, 2008 – released by WikiLeaks on Aug. 30, 2011.

Recall that mass protests in Yerevan on Mar. 1-2 against alleged
electoral fraud followed the 2008 presidential election in Armenia,
the results of which declared current President Serzh Sargsyan (then
prime minister) as successor to then President Robert Kocharian.

Pennington notes that the `mounting evidence’ includes the latest
ODIHR interim report, but that `most observers do not believe PM Serzh
Sargsyan did not legitimately won a first round majority in the
election,’ calling into doubts both the legitimacy and the
illegitimacy of the presidential election.

The cable continues listing the series of `hard truths’ that the US’
policy deliberations must negotiate `among a thicket of harsh
realities that leave us with few truly appealing choices,’ including:

`This [that Sargsyan may not legitimately have won the majority] may
not have been his own doing. President Kocharian and other
influential, anti-democratic forces may each have had their own
reasons for engineering this outcome. However, Sargsyan at best has
failed to take a strong stand against it, or the subsequent harsh

`Serzh Sargsyan has been an excellent, and pro-Western partner as
defense minister, accelerating Armenia’s Euro-Atlantic engagement.

`Sargsyan’s main rival, former President Levon Ter-Petrossian (LTP),
is no angel. His own presidential administration from independence
through 1998 grew increasingly authoritarian and corrupt, and he stole
the 1996 presidential election to hold onto power. He and his advisers
have privately made clear all along that they fully expected the
authorities to steal the election, and thus the LTP strategy was
always focused more on post-election public demonstrations to force
the government from power, rather than a strategy simply to win at the
ballot box.

`LTP is not an isolated extremist. Official figures gave him 21.5
percent (just over 350,000) of votes cast on Feb. 19, and the true
figure is doubtless substantially higher. Our best guess would be
somewhere between 30-35 percent (490,000 – 570,000 votes). His popular
support has only grown in the past two weeks. Many Armenians tell us
`it’s not about LTP anymore, it’s about this government’s behavior.’

`Post-election events have made LTP into by far the most legitimate
opposition political figure – more so than all the others combined.
The regime’s use of force against peaceful demonstrators, the media
blackout, and other elements of the crackdown have increased popular
outrage, and by default made LTP supporters out of many who still
dislike the man. If a run-off election were held now, LTP would very
likely beat Sargsyan. Many Armenians now see LTP as the only one with
a chance to break down what they see as the deepening entrenchment of
a Karabakhi-led kleptocracy in Armenia, seemingly determined to
monopolize every lever of political and economic power.

`However much we might suspect LTP’s motives and methods, during the
current election cycle, he and his supporters are predominantly the
victims while Sargsyan’s supporters were the wrong-doers. However, it
must also be acknowledged that there was a cadre of perhaps several
hundred people – within the perhaps 20,000 people protesting in front
of the French Embassy – which seemed to be pre-prepared and spoiling
for a violent confrontation with police. LTP’s most radical
lieutenant, Nikol Pashinyan, used extreme rhetoric to exhort
protesters to fight. LTP distanced himself from this in our subsequent
private conversation, but it is very possible that he was aware and
approved of this militant cadre in advance.

`It may indeed be the case that Serzh Sargsyan is, in his heart, more
progressive and democratic than his longtime friend and close
political partner Robert Kocharian. There have been tantalizing hints
that give room for hope on this score. It could also be the case that
Sargsyan desperately needs public legitimacy and Western support in
order to have the political strength to oust the most corrupt,
noxious, and thuggish elements which are now key pillars of the

`Withholding that support may pull the rug out from under what could
be Sargsyan’s sincere desire to clean house. This may, indeed, have
been Kocharian and other influential figures’ goal all along – to
ensure that Sargsyan’s election was so tainted as to make it
impossible for Sargsyan to marginalize them in the post-election
political constellation.’

The American diplomat then goes on to list four possible scenarios in
the aftermath of the election:

the mostly likely scenario over the medium to long term is that
Sargsyan will go along with regime elements counselling tough
measures. Underestimating the size, strength, and depth of public
sympathy that has been generated for LTP, Sargsyan will attempt to
crush the LTP-led opposition through police, security services, and
prosecutions, jailing many key LTP lieutenants and possibly LTP
himself on politically motivated charges. This will make LTP even more
of a hero-martyr of democracy. He will find himself relying ever more
heavily on a political crackdown to stay in control, and Armenia will
end up much more authoritarian than it has ever been since the Soviet

It may be that – as President Kocharian predicted to DAS Bryza during
his recent visit – the widespread popular outrage will die down more
quickly and comprehensively than we now suspect. Keeping key
organizers in prison may over time be sufficient to keep protests from
gaining traction, and society may settle back down into the quiescent,
semi-authoritarianism that prevailed throughout Kocharian’s
administration. A type of normalcy will resume, in which the broadcast
media remain tightly controlled by pro-regime forces, and various
elements of society know where the boundaries are. This is a recipe
for stagnation and steady deepening of political and economic
corruption, behind a window-dressing of democratic platitudes and
Westernization – until the next flashpoint emerges on some future day.

constructive move Sargsyan could realistically make would be to make
dramatic steps to promote national reconciliation, and to show his
commitment to combat the thuggish and corrupt elements of government.
Ending the state of emergency and media blackout are important steps,
as would be ending the flagrantly partisan programming now airing on
public television. Longer term, management changes in the national
television/radio regulatory commission and in the Public Television
channel to introduce objectivity and balance would be very positive
steps. By prosecuting pro-governmental as well as oppositional figures
for election and post-election crimes, while freeing the majority of
pro-opposition figures that have been arrested, he could establish
fresh credibility. His choice of a new prime minister and cabinet will
be an important bellwether of the direction he intends; a good crop of
fresh, clean faces would win public approval, while recycling corrupt
ones would deepen public cynicism.

`SCENARIO 4 – Sargsyan FALLS: We have been surprised that several
serious, non-opposition political thinkers have independently told us
privately that they expect, based on events of the past two weeks,
that Serzh Sargsyan will be unable to hold power for more than a year
or two. This argument holds that the opposition genie is now out of
the bottle. Armenians are widely shocked and traumatized by the events
of Mar. 1. No Armenian government has before been responsible for
suppressing opposition protests so forcefully as to lead to
fatalities. An accelerating cycle of reaction and counter-reaction (as
postulated in Scenario 1), could get out of Sargsyan’s control or
require a more heavy-handed response than the security forces
themselves are prepared to stomach. Some Armenian political observers
insist to us that Armenians are different from other post-Soviet
societies, in that they have a lower willingness to tolerate state
violence. They are proud of their history of standing up against
Soviet tanks in 1988 to demand independence, and have a highly
developed sense of national unity. Armenian soldiers and police firing
on Armenian citizens is seen by many as crossing the Rubicon.
Depending on how events unfold, LTP could yet manage to harness enough
public outrage to provoke a people-power revolution. Alternatively, in
the face of a rising cycle of crises, Sargsyan could face the fate
that LTP himself faced in 1998, and be ousted by an insiders’ coup.’

Pennington concludes his analysis by the US’ possible next steps:

`REWARD GOOD BEHAVIOR: In the near term, the best strategy available
to us is to support in whatever way we can any genuine efforts from PM
Sargsyan along the lines of Scenario 3 above. We have repeatedly
urged these types of gestures to the PM and his aides, and will
continue to do so. We have already and will continue to convey
messages back and forth between the government and the LTP camp to the
extent the two parties find that constructive.

encouraging the prime minister and other stakeholders to do the right
things, will be for us to tell the truth as we see it. We strongly
believe that we do neither the Prime Minister nor Armenian democracy
any favors if we soft-pedal our criticism of anti-democratic
behaviors, whether from the government or opposition side. We must
send firm and clear messages to the PM and other government
interlocutors, as well as to the opposition, that we will hold them
accountable for the way they manage this crisis. Bad behavior will
lead to consequences in US engagement and assistance. In the long run,
Armenian public opinion (which tends to have a surprisingly long
memory) will hold us accountable for whether we are seen to stand up
for democratic principles. We should not allow our hopes for
Sargsyan’s better nature to run too far ahead of demonstrated,
tangible commitments on his part.

`WHEN TO CONGRATULATE Sargsyan: There was much discussion during EUR
DAS Bryza’s visit here last week among the Western diplomatic missions
about when those capitals which have not formally congratulated
Sargsyan for winning the presidency should do so. Our view is that a
White House congratulations would not be appropriate under the current
state of emergency and media blackout. We recommend that such
congratulations be deferred until A) after the state of emergency is
lifted, or B) just before the April 9 inauguration date, whichever
comes first. We recommend that the congratulatory message also include
messages about the need to address political divisions in Armenia.’

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