Parliamentary Election to Fulfill Promise of Velvet Revolution

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Armenians will go to the polls to elect a new parliament for the first time since the first elections of the independent third Republic of Armenia without bribes or coercion.

The mayoral elections of Yerevan were conducted in a very peaceful atmosphere last month. The enthusiasm and the euphoria which had catapulted Nikol Pashinyan to the post of prime minister were lacking during the staid elections.

Under the previous regime, Yerevan’s mayoral elections were held with the participation of 40 percent of the registered voters. After the Velvet Revolution, only minor changes were recorded in the percentage of voters participating, which became 43 percent. Some facts and justifications are needed to explain the low number of participants.

One explanation referred to the lack of bribes. The other one, the certainty that Pashinyan’s My Step (Eem Kayleh) party would carry a landslide victory, therefore participation or staying away would not impact the outcome of the elections.

At this time, it is feared that the same factors may once again keep voters from the election booths.

The political mood of the citizenry can be gauged by talking to the cab drivers. Before the Velvet Revolution, they could not wait for a passenger to get in the cab to begin their complaints about the government leaders and the rising prices of commodities.

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Immediately following Pashinyan’s coming to power, the mood was jubilant. Today, their reaction is to mostly one of wait and see.

Pashinyan and his team believe that the people had given them a mandate to overthrow the old regime. After accomplishing that mission, it looks like they are lost about what the next step should be.

People, in general, are in the mood of expectation and anticipation. They are impatient and if their living conditions do not change overnight, they will be disappointed. The corruption and system of bribery disappeared right away. Yet, it will take a painstaking process to heal the wounds, to reform the system and begin to enjoy the dividends of the Velvet Revolution.

All hopes for now are pinned on the upcoming elections. Pashinyan is taking the people through a time consuming process to deliver a new legislature run by members of the young digital age generation.

At this time, intense horse trading is being conducted between parties and alliances in Armenia’s very fluid political system. In anticipation of the elections, new parties are emerging and old alliances are falling apart. Until solid parties are formed around ideological lines, the fluidity will continue to threaten the political system in Armenia.

In the West, the traditional parties have been formed to represent different interests of the groups in society and sustain democracy. Political parties formed around influential individuals and their pocketbooks will not have a long life. This time around, it seems that political structures are being built round ideological principles in Armenia too.

The electoral system is very complicated and very few people understand its workings. But people vote anyway. Pashinyan tried to overhaul the electoral system but the corrupt parliament struck down the drive by one vote.

There are 13 electoral precincts in the country, from which 101 members of parliament will be elected. Candidates will be elected in two ways: on a party ticket or a rating system.

The parties have to hit the 5-percent margin to be elected whereas an alliance needs a 7-percent margin. Any party which crosses the 5-percent threshold will elect 10 members to the parliament. On the back of the ballot there is a long list of other set of candidates who will be elected based on the votes they receive nationwide.

Any party which receives 42 percent of votes will be entitled to bonus votes which will raise its percentage to 50-percent-plus-one. That party will form the cabinet and designate the prime minister.

Pashinyan’s party is poised to win 80 percent of the vote. But the constitution does not allow any party to control the parliament with that kind of power. Assuming that Pashinyan will hit that percentage point, his party will lose 10 percent of this in practice because 30 percent of the parliament is allocated to the opposition. At least two parties may constitution the opposition. If the second party in the opposition fails to cross the 5 percent barrier, its candidates will be elected to assume a two-party opposition mandated by the constitution.

November 14 is the deadline for submitting the slate of candidates and paying the participation fee. Candidates can only run on party tickets. They may not run as individuals.

At this time, the following parties or alliances have decided to participate in the elections:

  • My Step headed by Pashinyan. It is a foregone conclusion that Pashinyan and his group will sweep the elections.
  • Prosperous Armenia headed by Gagik Tsarukyan. The latter has been distributing charity year round which may amount to a solid bloc of votes.
  • Menk Alliance headed by Aram Sargsyan, brother of slain Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsyan.

The Armenian Democratic Liberal (ADL) Party may also join the Menk Alliance.

  • Loosavor Hayastan (Bright Armenia) Alliance, headed by Edmond Maroukyan. Maroukyan and Sargsyan were planning to participate in a joint alliance but they recent split, each going their own way. The split may hurt both groups.
  • The Heritage Party, headed by Armen Martirosyan.

Discredited groups are the following which may receive a minimal number of votes:

  • The Republican Party, headed by Vigen Sargsyan. This was the ruling party headed by the deposed prime minister, Serzh Sargsyan.
  • The ARF (Dashnaktsutsyun) headed by Hrand Markaryan
  • Sasna Dzerer, headed by Jirayr Sefilyan. This group represents an extremist faction which overran a police station last year and resulted in the deaths of several officers. As a result Sefilyan and several others were tried and jailed. The party’s leadership was recently released from jail and they are still full of rage and rancor.
  • Yerkir Dzirany (Country of Apricots) led by Parliament Member Zarouhi Postanjyan has not revealed its intentions yet.

If the voter turnout is low once again, blame may be laid at the lack of bribes. The Velvet Revolution will not fulfill its goal until it accomplishes its next mission, placing the country on the true path of democracy. Once Pashinyan wins his mandate, he can fully immerse himself in the economic recovery of the country which is facing so many domestic and global challenges.

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