YEREVAN (A.W.)–The Armenian National Congress, a block of oppositional parties led by former president Levon Ter-Petrossian, has been actively engaged in negotiations with the ruling Republican Party. The main item on the agenda is the holding of early presidential elections, citing those held in February 2008 as having been marred by electoral fraud. Snap elections have been on the Congress’s agenda since the last elections, as its leaders believed the authorities held onto power by falsifying the election results. Now the subject is officially on the negotiating table, and it’s still anyone’s guess as to what the final outcome will be.
Despite Ter-Petrossian’s recent threats for renewed street protests in the wake of the government’s refusal to hold snap elections, it is unlikely that the Congress will be willing to risk a potentially confrontational episode—essentially a repeat of the infamous clashes of March 1, 2008. Ter-Petrossian has indeed contradicted his ostensive, hard-line stance in the past. Only last May, he announced that a new round of protests would not be supported by a public that was weary of another potentially violent clash with the authorities. Likewise, other Congress spokesmen have denounced “revolutionary” measures to initiate a change in government.
The talks, led by Levon Zurabian representing the Congress and Davit Harutyunian of the Republican Party, seem to be making some headway. The opposition block has begun lauding the authorities; on Aug. 8, the Congress praised the government’s close relations with Georgia, having been unaffected by the Russian-Georgian war. Yet, despite a setback on Aug. 9 when seven youth activists supporting the Congress were arrested, accused of assaulting police officers, Zurabian refrained from calling an end to the negotiations with the government. Four of the activists have since been released.
The Congress was also dubiously silent amidst the controversial and hasty verbal decree made earlier in the year by Yerevan Mayor Karen Karapetian to have business kiosks around the capital dismantled. Last week several kiosk owners in the Arabkir district of Yerevan were given only a few days’ notice that their property was to be raised, causing a fury of protests in the area that attracted police. Thousands are expected to be jobless as a result of the measure. The Congress also said nothing of the sudden dismissal of a judge in July who ruled against a prosecutor’s recommendations to refuse bail for a defendant.
Parliamentary elections are to be held next year, with presidential elections on schedule for 2013. Assuming one or both elections are indeed held earlier than stipulated under Armenian constitutional law, there are still no guarantees in place that electoral fraud will not be incurred. Snap elections do not infer free and fair elections, and that is something the opposition does not seem to acknowledge. For the Congress, early elections are a means to an end that is ambiguous and far from defined. The ARF-D and Heritage Party, meanwhile, hoping to gain public support by publicly discrediting the Congress, continue to play down the possibility of snap polls but offer no alternative methods to enact change.
History has proven that even when the state of Armenian political affairs appears fluid and free of turmoil, a sudden shake-up can always take form without warning. The Congress has already met five times with the authorities since July, making it quite obvious that the government is entertaining the main oppositional force. The final outcome of the talks is far from predictable as the government is still unlikely to agree to early elections. Yet, based on the progress of these seemingly cordial talks, an eventual invitation delivered to the Congress to join the government cannot be unexpected. Such a power-sharing gesture would be an ultimate form of placation and could feasibly neutralize the opposition, just in time for the parliamentary elections. So long as both sides are pleased, the political landscape will be relatively stable.
The government is still desperate in making itself seem legitimate to the world, particularly to the United States, three years into President Serge Sarkisian’s term. And by finding common ground with the opposition, it will confidently present itself as legitimate. Nevertheless, only when the Congress and pro-government coalition start playing on the same team will a real oppositional force representing the Armenian people’s demands and convictions emerge.