Decision 2013: Western investment v Russian commandos as likely

Decision 2013: Western investment v Russian commandos as likely
post-election dilemma for Armenia

VOTE 2013 | 04.03.13 | 14:56

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By NAIRA HAYRUMYAN
ArmeniaNow correspondent

The third interim report of the OSCE/ODIHR on the presidential
election in Armenia cast some doubts about the fairness of the vote
that is being disputed by the officially defeated opposition
candidate. The report published on Saturday noted `implausibly high’
voter turnout at many precincts where incumbent President Serzh
Sargsyan, the now certified winner of the election, carried the poll.
In fact, the leading Western vote-monitoring group hints that Sargsyan
won in the mentioned areas due to ballot-stuffing, vote list
manipulations and other administrative violations.

Hovannisian, who has held public protests since February 20, applied
to the Constitutional Court on Monday, demanding that the highest
judicial instance in Armenia annul the election result. Members of the
Republican Party of Armenia, however, insist that Hovannisian and his
team have no conclusive evidence to support their claims that the
election has been rigged. Hovannisian and his Heritage Party, however,
are likely to submit not only evidence of fraud proper, but also
reference to the latest OSCE/ODIHR report to insist that Sargsyan’s
victory was achieved at the cost of mass violations.

At the same time, Hovannisian and his supporters have not concealed
that they have little hope in justice to be administered at the
Constitutional Court, but rather were giving its members `the last
chance’ to exercise constitutional law and `to clean themselves before
the people.’

In the meantime, the opposition leader seems to be getting prepared
for local elections, which, for example, are due to be held in Yerevan
as early as May 5. Hovannisian has long insisted that the ruling party
is reproducing itself not least due to the majority that it has in
municipal and other local bodies and that this majority should be
broken.

Apparently, this was also one of the subjects discussed at a meeting
between Hovannisian and leader of the Prosperous Armenia Party (PAP)
Gagik Tsarukyan over the weekend. PAP did not participate in the
presidential election, but PAP may become a `critical mass’ to sway
the outcome of local elections as well as possible early parliamentary
elections (which are also being sought by Hovannisian).

It is remarkable that soon after the latest report of OSCE/ODIHR
Sargsyan was congratulated by United States President Barack Obama,
who, in fact, announced that American investments could be on their
way to Armenia. `We remain strongly committed to Armenia’s development
and look to your leadership to promote continued improvements in
democracy and the economic reforms that will present opportunities to
both the people of Armenia and the Americans looking to invest in a
valued partner with significant potential,’ Obama said in his message,
congratulating Sargsyan on his winning a second term in office.

Before that, however, on March 1, Commander of the Russian Airborne
Troops Vladimir Shamanov made a statement saying that on February 27
Russian Minister of Defense, Army General Sergey Shoigu instructed
them to make considerations for the use of Airborne Troops as a rapid
reaction force outside of Russia `in the event of an increased need
for efficient implementation of tasks to prevent crises.’ The matter
also concerns the possibility of using such elite Russian troops in
Armenia. In Yerevan, some opposition circles were quick to interpret
it as a threat. Experts say that Russian commandoes could be deployed
in Armenia even without Sargsyan’s `invitation’, which would drive him
into the corner, too.

The Russian Regnum news agency rushed to ridicule such statements,
including the remarks made by former opposition leader Arkady
Vardanyan, who was once imprisoned and then effectively exiled from
Armenia for allegedly inciting a revolt.

On March 12, Sargsyan is scheduled to visit Moscow, where he is likely
to make a tough choice – either to reject or accept the offer to join
the Customs Union (a Russia-led economic integration project for
former Soviet countries) in exchange for settling problems connected
with the price of natural gas. The opening of an airport near the
Karabakh capital of Stepanakert (plans for which are being opposed by
Azerbaijan) is also likely to be among the topics for discussion
during Sargsyan’s Moscow trip. It is not ruled out that the airborne
troops of the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization will
be deployed around the area of this airport.

Either way, the struggle of the West and Russia for influence in
Armenia is already acquiring visible features and shape. It is yet
difficult to say how far the current post-election protests are
connected with this geopolitical struggle, but one thing is clear – a
lot of people in Armenia are trying to benefit from the support of the
international community in dismantling the monolithic oligarchic
system in their country – a system that Russian troops appear to be
ready to defend and Western investments intend to break up.

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