Mensoian: Do Political Parties Have a Duty to Participate?

The Feb. 18, 2013 Armenian presidential elections had only a handful of political parties willing or able to oppose the reelection of President Serge Sarkisian of the Republican Party. Some political parties had decided to sit out the election rather than have their campaign fall victim to the usual political misconduct and voting irregularities that are endemic to elections in Armenia. Their rationale is that participation adds legitimacy to a seriously flawed election process. Although these irregularities can be persuasive reasons to boycott an election, it is a decision that abdicates a party’s responsibility to the voters and directly contributes to the electorate remaining cynical and resigned to accepting conditions detrimental to their well-being.

A campaign office for President Sarkisian in Yerevan. (Photo: The Armenian Weekly)

A campaign office for President Sarkisian in Yerevan. (Photo: The Armenian Weekly)

Political parties must weigh the effect that sitting out an election can have against the benefits that could accrue if they were to mount effective campaigns. When confronted by these vexing questions, party leaders should remember the many times in the glorious history of our people that soldiers and fedayees engaged in battle because it was considered their honorable duty to protect their nation—against all odds. In the same way, political parties have a duty to participate in any election that devolves from the set of principles, ideals, and vision for the future to protect the interests of the people and the state.

Armenia has had only three presidents since declaring its independence in 1991. And during these three administrations the economy has steadily deteriorated. If political parties are assumed to have an altruistic purpose, why should any problems exist? One overriding reason is that once a political party is ensconced in power, its policies and programs are prey to corruption by extraneous influences and pressure groups that have little or no interest in the well-being of the people or the viability of the state. This is not an uncommon situation when a ruling party has no serious opposition with which to contend.

Since 1991 unemployment and underemployment have steadily risen, ameliorated only somewhat because families and individuals have been forced to emigrate in search of employment or an improved quality of life. Countless Armenian families have been disrupted when the husband or father has had to seek work in a foreign country to support his family. The below replacement-level fertility rate, combined with emigration, have reduced the country’s population by at least 1 million, contributing to a rapid aging of the population. Too many of these elderly Armenians are being forced to live their retirement years in poverty.

The equality that women are guaranteed by the constitution has limited application in practice. Zarouhi Petrosyan’s death in 2009 awakened the Armenian conscience to the prevalence of domestic violence in the country. Zarouhi was a mother of a two-year-old girl and was routinely subjected to vicious attacks by her husband. Yet, martial violence and abuse continues unabated, with no legislation enacted to protect wives and mothers from shameless husbands who are no better than predators. Environmental degradation not only continues, but is intensifying. Habitats for endangered species of animals and plants are being destroyed by cutting old growth forests; extracting low grade copper ore, which is profitable only because it is unregulated; degrading the surface and ground water supplies; and decreasing air quality because relevant regulations either do not exist or are not enforced. The expansion and beautification of Yerevan continues unabated because it financially benefits the contactors, property owners, building material suppliers, and investors who represent a small politically connected group. While the capital city expands, the dichotomy with its hinterland increases to the detriment of the rural families and their quality of life. Young women in orphanages, upon reaching the age of 18, must leave this sheltered environment without having had any effective program, either before or after leaving, that would provide them with the necessary economic and social skills to become effective members of society. Need I go on? And while the country is engulfed by all of these shortcomings, the oligarchs are still able to enrich themselves.

How can political parties, under such conditions, consider sitting out an election an appropriate response? These deplorable conditions are not what our people should have to endure. Sitting out an election, however it may be rationalized, not only deprives the electorate of a voice in opposition to the failed policies of the incumbent, but leaves no alternative for the voter to consider. How can the leadership of these parties expect any legitimate, post-election opposition to be taken seriously by the voters when the victorious candidate has been given a free pass during the election? The lack of serious opposition—or oversight, if you will—by political parties has allowed “mer mayreni yergire” to become a fiefdom for a small group of favored individuals and families.

If any of these parties want to break out of their marginal status, they must make a sincere effort to support the various (often ignored) segments of the electorate, such as the elderly, the unemployed, the rural families, the non-farm workers, and the legitimate interest groups that have been forming in Armenia in support of the environmental regulations, women’s rights, legislation to protect women from marital violence, etc. And at the same time, these same parties must actively oppose those special interests with their agendas that continue to bleed Armenia for personal gain. An effective political party should be at the forefront, confronting the programs and policies of an administration that does not effectively address the wellbeing of its citizens or the security of the state. Political parties must be perceived by the electorate as being committed to a better, stronger, and secure Armenia.

4 Comments on Mensoian: Do Political Parties Have a Duty to Participate?

  1. The traditional parties in Armenia have nothing to offer the people in the way of true democratic participation. No wonder they sat out the February 18 presidential election. More rhetoric and generalities not backed up by practice. The parties make their obligatory presence known only at election time. They are nowhere to be found in between. There is nor real engagement with the citizen and voter in Armenia. The people realize that many of the so-called opposition parties are merely so in name. Their actions speak otherwise. These top-down parties (ARF, HAK, PAP) need to forge more horizontal rather than vertical strategies if they wish to become relevant in the lives of ordinary people clamoring for change. This is the challenge now facing Raffi Hovannisian – how to harness and use the 600,000 voters who said no to Serzh Sargsyan (More like 1,000,000 if we factor in the likelyvote rigging that took place). Will it be squandered as in 2008?

  2. Regardless of the election results, regardless whether one takes them as the truth, the question remains how will this groundswell of popular sentiment for real change be harnessed and used. What do the traditional parties in Armenia, the other “opposition” forces that did not participate in the election now have to offer in the way of democratically engaging the 600,000 or so voters who did not cast a ballot for Serzh Sargsyan. The tried and failed top-down approach to actually changing the reality in Armenia must be discarded. There is the real potential to forge true people power in Armenia. Will Raffi and the other so-called opposition forces be up to the task. Are those 600,000 (more like 1,000,000, if you factor in the vote rigging that took place in favor of the incumbent) ready to unite and organize around every day issues that affect them on a personal level? Hopefully, there is some light at the end of the tunnel.

  3. avatar vart adjemian // February 28, 2013 at 4:47 pm // Reply

    Many of the points that Dr Mensoian makes are valid and worth serious consideration, especially by the newly elected President.
    However, it is a veiled criticism of the ARF and the other parties that decided not to participate in the election by fielding a candidate. On this ponit I disagree.
    The comparison to participate or not in the election to ” Fedayees” engaged in battles is illogical.
    Modern day elections have many nuances. Two factors weigh very heavily. One is electebality and the other is financing. If you do not have a candidate that has the popularity and the recognition to be elected, and the funds necessary to finance a grueliing contest, than you are better off to commit the resources you have in ” battles” that you can win or at least make a positive influence.
    In the past elections, ARF candidates garnered a low percentage of the electoral votes. In my view, the ARF should spend its time and money on sharpening its focus, its communications with the electorate, and take the steps necessary by
    “walking the talk” and make a real difference in some aspects of the lives of our brethren and sisters in the Homeland.
    I personally am not a pundit, and have no idea what will happen next in Armenia with the current developments after Raffi’s unexpectedly high showing in the elections. In my view, elections are over and I am doubtful that anything will change
    the results. Now it is a time for the President and all elected members of the parliament to get together and find solutions to the problems facing Armenia.( No
    Laundry list is necessary).
    As for the pundits who do nothing other than criticise this or that in Armenia, please stop being only negative and try to come up with suggestions/ideas/proposals that
    can have a tangible effect.
    Vart Adjemian

  4. avatar gaytzag palandjian // February 28, 2013 at 6:30 pm // Reply

    Before daring to disclose my viewpoints,nay beliefs…I think it is time that I commence -like others-to present my qualifications?-O.K. I went through elementary schooling in Tehran learnign quite well Farsi and Armenian,In london at age 16, went through Clark´s College studying G.E.C.(equivalent to High School)In a suburban town of London , then onm to Pitman´s College Central London ,business Adminsitration,which did not quite finish it.then with brother started two small industries one U.S. (under license) the other Spanish…where we settled down since 1968 and stayed on till 1990.during latter 24 yrs began my efforts to catchj up with Armenian National affairs,so to say in Paris, marseilles Lyon and some in Gneva CH, Madrid Spain.
    Paricipated at the the First Armenian World Congress,(some 378 delegates attedning each with a 30 person proxy, from near all Armneian community countries, presenting my ¨¨paper¨ along with 28 others.And for 3 Days, 6 Sessions of 5/6 hours each(only one hour lunch breaks) at the
    modern NIKKO Hotel in Paris. & of us were by eected to be next to executive.Then two more ,at Lausanne and back to paris again.then many a time to meetings in France mainly,in a couple I delivered discourses re mine.
    Now then , since a few o f my articles were published in relation to what I am to describe below(all rest in the Armenian Reporter, Hairenik and Asbarez and another in Beirut,etc.) most others dealing with ordianry Armenian affairs so to say.Only One some 7 yrs ago in USArmenian weekly and latest in two .One in Nor Gyank begiinig january 10,20

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