CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — On Saturday, December 3, the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR) held a panel discussion entitled “The Armenian Parliamentary Elections in April, 2017: How can the Diaspora engage in Armenia’s Democratic Evolution,” at Harvard University.
The program was sponsored in conjunction with the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.
Moderating the panel discussion was Dr. Anna Ohanyan, the Richard B. Finnegan distinguished professor of political science and international relations at Stonehill College. The panelists were Prof. Miguel E. Basanez, director of the Judicial Reform Program, Tufts University Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy, an expert on electoral practices and opinion polling in Mexico; John M. Evans, American diplomat and former U.S. Ambassador to Armenia; via Skype from Armenia Sona Ayvazyan, a founding member and executive director of Transparency International Anti-Corruption Center; Isabella Sargsyan, program director at the Eurasia Partnership Foundation and an international consultant on religious freedom issues and Tevan Poghosyan, member of parliament in Armenia and president of the International Center for Human Development.
The 25-year-old Republic of Armenia is facing political unrest due to issues of corruption, lack of economic growth, dissatisfaction with the current government, and concerns regarding the status of Nagorno-Karabakh. In April 2017, Armenia will hold its first parliamentary elections since the Constitutional reform referendum of December 2015 and will transition from a semi-presidential system to a parliamentary one, strengthening the legislature at the expense of the presidency. The goal of the discussion at Harvard was to explain the Constitutional changes occurring in Armenia and to explore the role of the diaspora in the political evolution of the country.
Basanez spoke first about election fraud in Mexico and the impact that it had on Mexico’s democratic evolution. He noted the importance of opinion polling with an emphasis on how to improve the veracity of the responses. Basanez played a central role in improving Mexican electoral practices that support democracy. After 71 years of the dominance of a single party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) was defeated in the elections through the ballot box in 2000.
Elections that are free, fair and transparent constitute the bedrock of any democracy. Around 84 percent of the respondents in Armenia answered that it is important for citizens to vote in elections, according to the Caucasus Barometer survey carried out by the Caucasus Research Resource Center in Armenia. Over the past 20 years, a new trend of authoritarian and semi-authoritarian countries to rely on elections to legitimize their power has been significant. Elections are carried out, in democratic and most authoritarian states alike. However, fraudulent elections have emerged as the parallel trend. Electoral fraud erodes the basic trust between the government and the people; according to the Caucasus Barometer, only 5 percent of respondents in Armenia agreed with the statement that “most people can be trusted” and 30 percent thought that “you cannot be too careful.” The numbers for Georgia were slightly better.