Elections In Armenia: An Interview With Antranig Kasbarian

ELECTIONS IN ARMENIA: AN INTERVIEW WITH ANTRANIG KASBARIAN

Armenian Weekly
May 4, 2012

WATERTOWN, Mass.-The Armenian Weekly and the Hairenik Weekly conducted
an interview with the chairman of the ARF Central Committee of the
Eastern US on the upcoming elections in Armenia this weekend. Below
is the English translation of the interview.

Antranig Kasbarian What can be expected from the May 6 elections in
Armenia? Do you anticipate any differences from previous elections?

There will, of course, be differences between these elections and
previous ones, but unfortunately they will not be profound ones. For
example, bribes are rampant and the ruling elites are “buying” votes
in this pre-election period. There will also be irregularities on
Election Day, but over the years, vote rigging on Election Day has
decreased, giving the not-so-accurate impression that the political
situation in the country is improving.

There are also other differences compared to previous years. This
time, the most heated battle is between the two ruling parties,
the Republican Party and the Prosperous Armenia Party, while the
opposition forces, even the Armenian National Congress, appear weak
and vulnerable.

What can you say in this context about the specific case of the ARF?

There are certain differences here too. When the ARF was still part
of the government-when it had ministers and local governors-means to
impact the overall election process were available. Also, the ARF
received some support from the ruling elite-such support is almost
certainly precluded today. Therefore, more than ever, the ARF has to
now rely on its own abilities, continuing to strengthen its ties with
citizens from all walks of life. This requires relentless efforts in
the spheres of communications, outreach, finances, etc.

The ARF has prepared an election platform that stands out. Do you
think it will attract a significant number of voters?

Yes, the ARF has prepared a truly comprehensive pre-election program
that reflects our broad platform. It covers the important bases-the
political, economic, social, and foreign policy dimensions-objectively
presenting the current state of affairs and suggesting possible
solutions. The ARF leadership in Armenia has invested a significant
amount of time on this effort, and has been presenting its election
platform at campaign events and rallies across the country.

Unfortunately, the pre-election atmosphere and culture in the country
has deteriorated in recent years. Election platforms and programs,
which should have a profound impact on the voter, fail to do so.

Instead, finances have the greatest impact on the voter.

Unfortunately, election money speaks louder and more convincingly
than comprehensive election platforms. I cannot blame the people
entirely, though, because many are under profound financial duress
and are looking for means to improve their lot. Regardless, the ARF is
steadfast on the conviction that the people deserve fair, transparent
elections, based on political debate and a healthy discourse. We are
hopeful that this will be realized in the coming days.

The platform itself is a very extensive document, which includes all
the reforms that we consider to be imperative. In the economic sphere,
for examples, it envisions laws that secure a competitive economy,
and one which encourages exports. In the social sphere, it proposes
laws to guarantee freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Laws are
also proposed to secure the independence of the judiciary, to reform
the electoral system, etc. For more details, go to

We often hear that the ARF has not succeeded in galvanizing a broad
base, why is this the case? Moving ahead, do you see this changing?

It is difficult to give a definitive answer to this question. On the
one hand, it is a fact that the current ruling elite-the Republicans
and Prosperous Armenia in particular-are doing their utmost to maintain
the status quo. Against this onslaught, the task of the opposition
parties has become considerably difficult. The ARF, the Heritage
Party, and the Armenian National Congress and others are all trying
to secure a broad base of support. While the people closely follow the
political developments, the press conferences, and election campaigns,
it is important to note that to follow developments is one thing, to
go out and vote is another. I have often witnessed certain political
leaders and candidates receiving enthusiastic support in villages
and towns during election campaigns, but the election results have
not reflected this enthusiasm.

The ruling elite continuously stresses that the election will be free
and transparent. Do you share that optimism?

To be fair, in recent years, Election Day in Armenia has been much
more peaceful and calm than before. The means of the past-beatings,
threats, switching ballot boxes, etc.-are still employed, but much
less frequently than before. The reasons for this improvement are many:
the influence of foreign observers, international pressure, etc.

But the general state of affairs, in essence, remains the same. Now
the means are different; Armenia’s oligarchs secure their positions
through bribes, maneuvers, and “legal” means. Thus the process is
increasingly becoming more comparable to the kinds of corruption that
we encounter in “civilized” countries. Of course the majority of the
people notices this, which is why they have become so cynical.

What are the chances of the ARF in these elections?

I think the ARF can clear the five percent mark required for
political parties to secure seats in parliament. I believe that the
ARF will gain the confidence of the people, especially for the seats
allocated through proportional representation. The party also has
a core constituency of loyal voters, who vote for the ARF because
they admire its stance on national issues. But today, due to the
dire circumstances in the country, social and economic issues take
precedence over national issues for the voters.

www.arf2012.am.

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