A Presidential Election in Armenia with Predictable Results

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By Edmond Y. Azadian

No matter what topic we choose today and no matter how festive a mood we pretend we are in, we cannot avoid expressing our sentiments about the brutal massacre of innocent children in Connecticut because the tragedy strikes a sensitive chord in all of us. It reminds us all of the traumatic experiences we all have faced as human beings. In the case of the Armenians, it brings back tragic events from our collective memory; we cannot help remembering the Armenian children loaded onto boats in Trabzon during the Genocide and drowned at sea.

While forensic experts, psychologists and the police try to unravel the motive behind the Connecticut massacre, no expertise is necessary to find a motive for drowning the Armenian children; that was part and parcel of a planned extermination of an entire nation.

Today, only a fragment of that nation is huddled in 10 percent of its historic homeland and is struggling to survive — 21 years of independence giving a new lease on life to a nation trying to make sense of 21stcentury realities.

One of those realities is holding presidential elections, observing democratic norms, all within the context of the political culture of the Caucasus.

The Caucasus region is a powder keg where major power interests converge and collide and any action by local actors may trigger uncontrollable conflagrations. Therefore, Armenia is treading carefully in a tug of war between the emerging Russian empire and Cold War veterans of the West who try to clip Russia’s budding wings.

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For months, speculations have abounded regarding the presidential election campaign, which will culminate on February 18, 2013, when President Serge Sargisian will be reelected to a second term.

The campaign was manipulated so skillfully that the result is already predictable to any citizen in Armenia.

For months, alliances and coalition collapses were predicted, with potential candidates scrambling to capture the limelight. But after the political opposition was cut to size during last year’s parliamentary elections, the forum was left to two major parties, namely, the Republican Party of Sargisian and the Prosperous Armenia Party of Gagik Tsarukyan. As it is well known, the latter was formed by the former President Robert Kocharian in order to serve as a launching pad for his political comeback. After testing the waters, Kocharian quietly and cautiously retired to the background and the party began promoting the candidacy of Vartan Oskanian, former minister of foreign affairs for 10 years. Oskanian, being from the diaspora, generated a knee- jerk opposition in Armenia, whether expressed or tacit.

Additionally he had not partaken in the local mafia culture, which, in essence, disqualifies someone from rising to power in Armenia.

Therefore, because he was a legitimate target, this prompted the authorities to publicly intimidate him with a criminal investigation into his financial dealings, that shifted the speculation on Mr. Tsarukyan himself, as to whether he would run as a candidate or not. It is believed that he has the following of half a million voters, which makes a lot of difference given the Armenian election context.

Tsarukyan’s meteoric rise exhilarated the opposition’s hope to have found a viable candidate to rally around.

HAK — or the Armenian National Congress — was weighing for a long time whether to propose its own candidate in the person of former President Levon Ter-Petrosian or rally around a candidate uniting all opposition factions. And that candidate could potentially be Mr. Tsarukyan. The first option presented only a dismal exit for the former president from the political life, because the odds were obviously against him. The Tsarukyan scenario seemed more pragmatic. The ARF (Dashnag Party), perhaps would also hang its hat on the Tsarukyan candidacy despite lingering rancor against the potential coalition partner Ter-Petrosian from the past.

Mr. Tsarukyan kept waiting and teasing all the groups about his decision, and then on 12-12-12 he dropped the other shoe and revealed he would not submit his candidacy; his party offered a terse announcement that it would not endorse any candidate, including former hopeful Oskanian.

It is anyone’s guess which way Mr. Tsarukyan’s constituency would vote. But the ruling Republican Party was relieved and certainly gained from the elimination of a powerful contender and the opposition lost its potential candidate.

The Dashnag party faces a crossroads; the leadership is split between nominating its own candidate or not participating at all. In the first case, they may be testing the incumbent; in the second case they may benefit from the crumbs of power in paving the way for Mr. Sargisian in his march to the presidential palace.

At this time there are some eight candidates, most of them don’t enjoy name recognition. Only Paruyr Hayrikyan is known as a perennial candidate who has yet to win an office. Raffi Hovannisian is the candidate of the Heritage Party, which has its own original platform, but his candidacy also faces the same reservation which the voters secretly have towards individuals or party from the Diaspora.

In this background the Republican Party held its 14th convention to propose its candidate for Armenia’s presidency. The Country of Laws (Orinants Yerkir) Party , the ARF, ADL, Hunchuk and Democrats were invited. The Heritage and Prosperous Armenian parties were excluded.

In a major speech, Mr. Sargisian outlined Armenia’s achievements during the last five years of his presidency and developed his plan for the next five years.

His major theme was a secure Armenia as a military power, as an economically prosperous country, a land of laws and a country on its way to eradicating corruption.

Armenia is squeezed between the great powers and is confronted by restless enemies at its borders. People instinctively realize the situation and they know there is no time for political turmoil. They take the president at his own word and believe he is sincere.

Barring any unforeseen developments, Serge Sargisian’s election seems to be a forgone conclusion.

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