Beyond Freedom Square: An Analysis of the Presidential Election and Its Aftermath

Lately a spate of articles have appeared lamenting the general malaise that has engulfed Armenia. Should we feign surprise or should we be honest and acknowledge the why of it all? An objective appraisal of what may be properly referred to as a political miasma can be laid at the feet of the political leaders irrespective of party affiliation. Some of these leaders have been corrupted by power once it has been achieved; others—the political lackeys—function at the behest of those in power; and finally the political parties that seem to be in a quandary as to what should be done.

It is time for all concerned, especially those who sat out the election as well as Raffi Hovannisian, to put the election aside. Mr. Sarkisian has been reelected President of the Republic of Armenia, warts and all. (Photo by Khatchig Mouradian)

It is time for all concerned, especially those who sat out the election as well as Raffi Hovannisian, to put the election aside. Sarkisian has been reelected president of the Republic of Armenia, warts and all. (Photo by Khatchig Mouradian)

Against that backdrop the February 2013 presidential election has come and gone. According to the official results, President Serge Sarkisian with his fine-tuned Republican Party political machine handily won reelection with nearly 59 percent of the vote cast, thus avoiding a run-off. Candidate Raffi Hovannisian of the Heritage Party made an exemplary showing with nearly 37 percent of the vote. The usual irregularities were noted by the opposition and the usual obsequious foreign observers validated the election process.

If anything came out of this election it was the ascendance of Raffi Hovannisian as the nation’s principal opposition leader. He understood the challenges as well as the obstacles that faced his candidacy, but he offered no excuses and he accepted none. He was willing to mount the ramparts to wage the good fight on behalf of the Armenian people and the Armenian nation. His bravado served him well with a cynical electorate that was in need of a believable anti-incumbent. His “victory” should encourage the leaders of those political parties that seek to create a better Armenia to understand how important commitment and passion are in the eyes of the electorate. Unfortunately, parties that could have actively supported his candidacy on the campaign trail, failed to do so. Some of their followers obviously voted for  Hovannisian, but their numbers might have been far greater if these parties had actively participated. Raffi Hovannisian’s popularity at this moment is at its highest level because of his bravura performance on the political stage. He is perceived, not as a typical politician, but as an individual imbued with the commitment and passion that are the sine qua non armor of the crusader who willingly takes on the Goliath of an entrenched administration that has failed to keep faith with the Armenian people.

Having said that, it is time for all concerned, especially those who sat out the election as well as Raffi Hovannisian, to put the election aside. Sarkisian has been reelected president of the Republic of Armenia, warts and all. Carping about what should have been, could have been, or might have been only adds to the apathy, disillusionment, and the resignation of the voters to a flawed system. As the pressure mounts on President Sarkisian, the political leaders of the concerned parties should speak as one (if that is possible) to force a civil dialogue that will lead to the necessary long-term reforms.

Granted, Hovannisian has every right to savor the success his candidacy has had in reshaping the political environment. However, his claim that the “Citizens of Armenia have spoken clearly today…” has yet to be determined. Let us keep in mind that 1 million Armenians did not vote in the presidential election. Was the alternative to President Sarkisian not sufficiently appealing to gain their support? Can it be said that the votes Hovannisian received were entirely in support of his candidacy or, in the alternative, were a sizable number of his votes in protest against the incumbent? Again, nearly 40 percent of the registered voters did not participate. Can either side claim that it has received a mandate from the electorate?

Young Armenian activists joined by concerned university students have been given an added impetus by Hovannisian’s candidacy. This is the time for Hovannisian to become the statesman that Armenia needs. To date, his speeches have been inspirational: “Today in the Ararat plain, in Noah’s world, surges a new flood, clear and clean, and—at the same time—powerful, historic, and forward looking. It comes to cleanse our country of all its impurities and lies.” He is visiting various parts of Armenia with his message of hope and change. Unfortunately, he is talking to people who have been offered hope and promised change too many times in the past only to be disillusioned. The inherent danger in offering hope and change, without some indication of the obstacles that must be overcome, is that the electorate may be led to expect more than can be delivered. The voters must be encouraged to understand the vital role they have in bringing about change.

Presently the Republican Party has a majority of 69 members in a 131-seat parliament. The Prosperous Party led by Gagik Tsarukian follows with 37 members. The Armenian National Party (7), Rule of Law Party (6), Armenian Revolutionary Federation (5), Hovannisian’s Heritage Party (5), and non-partisans (2) have the remaining 25 members. It should be noted that the next parliamentary election is in 2017. This distribution poses a serious challenge to longterm meaningful reform if the principal battlefield is parliament. But, if not there, where? In the streets? Rallies, demonstrations, strikes, work slow-downs, or stoppages cannot be sustained for an indefinite period without bringing the government to a standstill. These activities, while dramatically calling attention to issues, only exacerbates the onerous condition of the urban worker and his family. Our people have enough to contend with without adding these disruptive activities to their daily burden.

The Prosperous Party, having sat out the election, evidently has no iron in the fire concerning voting irregularities, but supports the right of the opposition to express its concerns. It places itself in a unique position by supporting the opposition without attacking the president’s legitimacy. How much better if Tsarukian used his influence to broker a meeting between a coalition of opposition leaders (including leaders of the young activists movement) with President Sarkisian and key members of his administration to discuss the alleged campaign and voting irregularities and the need for comprehensive systemic reforms. This suggestion may seem naïve, but a long drawn out attempt that may involve, according to Hovannisian, possible legal challenges to nullify or to unseat Sarkisian or a popular movement that feels denied, could easily lead to government paralysis or at best to a government beset with a continuing series of debilitating crises. There are any number of unintended consequences that could result that would benefit no one, least of all the Armenian people.

Another thought to consider is that Armenia does not exist in a vacuum. Foreign governments that may have very little interest in the welfare of the Armenian people or the country’s flawed political process do have an interest in what does take place in Armenia. Although it cannot be reduced to a simple yes or no response, any number of governments (Russia, Western Europe, Iran, and the United States) would prefer to see Sarkisian preside over the status quo without any disruptive opposition to contend with. Other governments (Turkey and Azerbaijan) can see the advantages associated with a chaotic or crisis-driven government in Yerevan. A politically destabilized political environment could well be fertile ground for the Turkish-Armenian protocols to be resurrected. It is a known objective of the United States government to have the protocols ratified. Would destabilization push Armenia further into the Russian sphere (joining a reoriented Georgia under Prime Minister Ivanishvili) away from a western orientation? And Artsakh? Would this be an opportune time for a resumption of hostilities by Azerbaijan? And would the promised changes for our brothers and sisters in Javakhk (Georgia’s Samtskhe-Javakheti region) fall by the wayside? How might relations between diasporan philanthropic and humanitarian organizations and Yerevan be affected?

This post-election period will surely be one of the most contentious as well as the most critical for the Armenian people and for Armenia. Hopefully, the electorate will not be witness to inter-party jockeying for status by political leaders or a failure by the opposition to stay on message. This is a pivotal moment that comes with no guarantees of success for the opposition. To place all the ills facing Armenia on Sarkisian may be politically expedient, but unfair. Political leaders of all the parties have been complicit, in one way or another, in greater or smaller measure in allowing conditions in Armenia to deteriorate since independence was declared in 1991. A systemic problem exists that must be addressed. This is the opportunity to begin that arduous process. The opposition, if it can remain unified, must have a plan that involves more than the appealing thought of changing the name on the door to the president’s office. Hopefully the forces for change can build on what Raffi Hovannisian describes as the “people’s victory.”

13 Comments on Beyond Freedom Square: An Analysis of the Presidential Election and Its Aftermath

  1. Thanks for balanced analysis and something beyond oversimplifications and hypocrisy.

  2. avatar gaytzag palandjian // March 16, 2013 at 1:03 pm // Reply

    No doubt Mr.Mensoian´s in depth analysis is worth the while to read and re read includes near all or all issues that are to be solved por resolved,in that tumultuous region-Rather, regional race,I´d say for the main actors to cope with.
    What concerns us Armenians ,as rgds,e.g.Armenia-Diaspora more enhanced relations.having our say at the Minsitry of Diaspora…comes to mind my ¨ssuggested¨
    1. MODE that of having from 5 main Armenian community areas(not countries9N.&.S.Americas, EU.RF.and the Middles East, 5 permanent delegates in said Ministry to attend to Amrenian Global affairs indeed with the haireni(fatherland co workers…Anyone in favour or in opposition w/this?????
    You see Mr. mensoian, rather than do analysis (which you perfectly)I offer-suggest format alwasys,take it or leave.Now then
    2. Suggesting to Gov.t of RA to issue passports to all Armenian Young the special residency one so as they go on their vacations to learn,on top of language,culture and history,UNDERGO military cadet trainings for couple months.have in view that in most of the Diaspora countries our young do not undergo any such military trainings..most are pay Armies….
    3.I wish Raffi & co. would take time to study a bit ,the Gerogian and Persian way of diplomacy…the one that drives home their aspirations home, as they do it flexibly.Never making a BEEN LINE so to say…
    Dear Raffi has inherited the Armenian last cnetury fedayeioin spirit, the short and that does deserve praise.however, some ¨Hazgerdian¨ very cunning Persian king…tactics are used in these dayus as well…..especially in dealing with the Powers that are there….
    Mr. Mensoian speaks of our many pains(Tsav) we have inclusive of Javakhk..who does not know that,if a bit familiar w/our history…we let that slip out of our hands ,QUITE RECENTLY TOO.When georgia was at war with N.Ossetia and Abkhazia(viz. Russia , really…at that moment RA should have seized the moment and helped javakhdeti GAin at least Autonomy if not outright Independence,like above two..bygones are bygones..
    Right now Catholicos is trying to persuade RAffi8am also listening watching H! T.V. from rA9 to be brotherly and solve problems(another hazgerdian approach)but it will not help…Raffi is bent on one thing now!!!
    No Not craving for presidency but to make stick the fact that the people of Armenia is up on their feet, pressing for more S A Y…I am with the option though that this can as yet be resolved step by step.If Raffi himself takes the first step asks ARF,PAP(oskanian thereinnow)alsoParuyr¨s if not latter personally his comrades to JOIN IN BECOME ONE,asking for C H A N G E

  3. avatar vart adjemian // March 16, 2013 at 9:43 pm // Reply

    Interesting article, but a bit of wishful thinking , due to the following facts:
    1- President Sarkisian won with 59% of the vote. In any democracy, that is considered a big win.
    2- His Republican Party has 69 seats in the parliament. That is a solid majority which whether we like it or not can dominate the legislature.
    3- All the opposition parties combined, have a total of 62 seats. Even if by some miracle they all come together , they cannot stop the Republcian Party or force it to change course.
    4- For me personally, it is mind boggling that in a small country , we have 6 political parties. Why do we need six? What are the platforms of each party? What diffirentiates them form each other? What has each party contributed to the well being of the country?
    5- With all that has been written and commented about Hovanissian, his party has only 5 seats in the parliament. As great and influencial he seems to be, his party has not been able to attract other ” good candidates” to be elected. A one man show cannot win elections. Had he won the election, how was he to govern?
    The only path and solution is for the opposition parties to come together and form a united front to influence the parliament to reform and act for the benefit of the people. Sadly, on that front there has been no tangible progress, which clearly indicates that not only the opposition is fragmented, but its leaders are myopic and worried only about their positions of power.
    What will be a major acomplishment for Hovanissian is to unite the opposition rather than go on a hunger strike. There will be other elections.

    Vart Adjemian

    • “Had he won the election, how was he to govern?”

      The same way as other “made in America” color barevolutionist presidents:

      1. Saakashvilli in Gurdjistan – came to power in a coup called “Rose Revolution” sold out his country to Turkey-Azerbaijan-BP
      2. Yuschenko in Ukraine – came to power in a coup called “Orange Revolution”, stole natural gas from Russia
      3. Vīke-Freiberga – huge fan of Azeris
      4. Kurmanbek Bakiyev – won “Tulip Revolution”, established his clan of thieves on top of the medieval feudal system

  4. A few points for clarification:

    1. The democratic process will never function in Armenia under the existing regime. Five more years of Sargsyan and the Republican party will mean five more years of oppression of Armenian citizens, the continued violation of civil rights, and further enriching the pockets of government officials as well as those close to them at the expense of the Armenian people’s interests. The authorities do not compromise with anyone, that is the main impediment to democracy, civil empowerment and the rule of law. Their “it’s all about me” motto cannot ever be applied to serving the needs of Armenia, period. They will not cave in to diplomatic pressure, whether internal or external. Therefore, this popular movement for change must succeed.

    2. Replacing the regime will not give a green light to Armenia’s aggressors. We need to finally once and for all give this paranoid sentiment a burial. Armenia’s borders are secure and will remain so. The only thing that will be destabilized is the oligarchic structure that has been strangling the country for 20 years.

    3. Although the author does raise some good points, it is clear that he is unfamiliar with what is occurring on the ground. He really needs to visit the country and talk to ordinary citizens and civil society leaders to find out for himself what their needs are and how they suffer on a daily basis at the hands of a criminal ruling regime that continues to pass laws and take actions that consistently run against their interests. Serzh Sargsyan as president has done very little if not nothing for the welfare of Armenian citizens. Nearly a hundred thousand people migrate every year, that alone is a strong indicator of how desperate people are socially and economically. They are not leaving because emigration is a natural phenomenon. Raffi’s movement is empowering people, and their struggle for justice and the rule of law should not be discouraged by anyone living comfortably in the Diaspora.

  5. avatar gaytzag palandjian // March 17, 2013 at 10:42 am // Reply

    I observe,both Vart and Chris in their posts are in tandem with my above one.
    One very important issue or point that has been overlooked by both is:-
    My first paragraph lightly hints to :-
    ¨Regional race for the actors…to cope with….¨
    by which I am implying the roles that these ¨´actors¨ are performing, in a race that is to have hegemony over the area….
    Now that is the main issue.S.Srgsyan and /r anyone else that might be placed in that position , as Chief,shall we say of tiny Armenia (and his cabinet) are to be ¨their¨ people….
    Raffi , in this case is the UMBOST(rebel) not in the real meaning of the word..though…quite the contrary so far he has been(and I´m sure will continue) to be peace-preaching and not diverting to agitation..
    In brief, (without nameing actors) on the one side those who wish this mode of Gov.t (ISHKHJANUTYUN) hell this does not suit Armenia and Armenians(It did in the old ages) meaning Princedome(yet another aArmneian word for you BDEHSKHK) PRINCELING SHALL WE SAY…
    People in armenia all!!!! should stop using that word,instead,say GARAVARUTYUN(Government)….for that word leaves the G.Dmaned impression that we are as yet in the in 1500´s centuries back….And believ e it or not, it is what the ordinary people of Armenia think of the Oligark´s as ISHKHANS-BDESHKHS….i REALLY SYMPATHIZE WITH THEM.
    Sadly, our few to the left leaning politicla aprties have not been able to change the understanding/mentality of our people from that to a different one.
    Here now…..I beg to differ with many many not only here online but also all over Diaspora as well. That the word Democracy (in my vocabulary means……you guess it-though on the surface what you guys think and preach-however not PRACTICED…it is the shall I say it????
    Democracy on the surface, undernmeath the ¨´kick back¨¨ methodology…in the ex soviet structures called in armenian´´ GOGHMNAGI YEGAMOUD¨, TRANSLATES AS.- side-income!!!!!!!!! in short thievery, bribes, kick back you name it.70 yrs of that and carried on another 20 yrs more under that NEW one. Poor Armenian people, from one extremity to another…
    Though some nice kid here will protest that I write in capital letter the rest..
    For Chris now.Please ..democracy that you think is good on paper, not in Armenia,they will transform that into GOGHMNAGI YEGAMOUD,as above, but probalby getting used to use the phrase Kaci-Het(kick back ) style.
    For so has been prepared the ground from those 70 plus 20 yrs to now!!!
    Raffi, to surmise NEEDS REAL BACK UP,SUPPORT FROM ALL NON -Republican side,plus some from L:A.Yes L.A.Los Angeles……His father and friend(s) to come adn give him a hand .Otherwise this will continue and Heaven forbid ,may lead the Armenian homeland and its Diaspora to…….

  6. Mensoyan cannot think outside the box and assumes the truthfullness & validity of the outcome – as endorced by the world powers – of the alleged “democratic election” in Armenia on February 18 . The trap into which the author has fallen is the original fallacy of, # 1. Seeing Armenia completely in isolation without consideration of her inseperable connection to all the regional disputes, extending to the highest level of international conflict; and, #2. Seeing the whole armenian affair within the limited scope of the traditional East-West conflict, Armenia being part of either “this” or “that” camp. This does not give the full faith & credit Armenia deserves as a fully independant and free Nation, and not a lackey of any world power or the UN. After 20 years of “independance” Armenia should have accomplished complete economic freedom – it has not. The opposit has happened with hundreds of thousands leaving the country and the oligarchs takingn over led by Sarkissian, the lackey of the Kevorkov dynasty in Baku – the safe haven for the communist imperial apparatchik since Taleat. However, the problem is not necessarily the SS Brigate. Rather, the apparatus which permits lack of transparency shrouding the entire electoral process in post-Soviet Armenia,i.e., the presidency itself.

    The reform which the peoples and Nation of Armenia have undertook through Raffi today is, at its heart, foundational, ergo a constitutional process, hopefully fruitful one. It involves participation by every armenian without exception – however they deem fit to express their voice! My question to Raffi – from the Diaspora perspective – what exactly is his plan for reform, Constotutional reform?

  7. I fully agree with Chris and Sarkiss. The article sounds exactly like the backbone-less reaction that the Diasporan organizations had in 1988 towards the brewing revolution in Armenia. There were those in the Diaspora and in Armenia who warned against upsetting the social order of the then-Soviet Armenia, saying that it could destroy Armenia. It’s a good thing the people did not listen to them, otherwise we would not have free NKR now.

    We should totally reject the argument that a democratic regime change in Armenia will risk Armenia’s security. That’s the argument of the ruling regime, and as long as we swallow it, there will never be any change. Without democratic change, Armenia will eventually be destroyed. The Azeris will not attack simply because there is push for democratic change in Armenia. They will not attack as long as our troops protect the borders. They may attack if the government takes the troops off the borders to use them against the people, in which case the blame falls on the government. And they will attack if Armenia continues to depopulate, weakening the army.

    By the way, we should be open and honest about the 2008 Martakert clashes, or else we will keep deceiving ourselves. I think it is likelier that the Armenian government provoked the clashes just to use it against Levon’s movement. From Azeri point of view, it made no sense to start an attack at that point, when the Armenian government was still in control. The logical step would be to wait and attack NKR later, when it was clear that the government was no longer in control of the country. I have heard from families of Armenian soldiers that whenever there is any trouble in Yerevan, the government orders our army to provoke shootings.

    Our own history, the glorious 1988 revolution proves that a democratic revolution will not lead to a destruction of the country. Democracy is a strength-multiplier. That’s why tiny Greece defeated the mighty Persian empire, the same empire that enslaved our own Armenia.

    Even in the unlikely event that Azeris are stupid enough to attack Armenia following a change, it does not mean that they will win. After the French revolution, when pretty much every country in Europe attacked France, every single one of them was defeated. And this was before Napoleon. So, we really need to reject this regime-driven idea that a democratic regime change will somehow lead to Armenia’s demise. Exactly the opposite is true.

  8. I think vart adjemian raised an interesting point–why Armenia has six parties. To me, there is nothing mind boggling about that. We Armenians are humans, just like anyone else, and no matter how small a society is, there will always be different opinions and interests which will form into different organizations. The problem is not with our people, the problem is with the system. The cure is to adopt a U.S.-style two-party system, and the way to do it is to get rid of the proportional representation. This is where I disagree with Raffi, who wants to make the entire parliament proportional. No, it has to be entirely majoritarian, as it in the U.S.

    Under the proportional system, each party gets so many seats based on proportion of votes received in the ENTIRE republic. This encourages fragmentation of the opposition, because each party hopes it will get its share of the seats. This works perfectly for the Republican party, because it keeps the opposition fragmented and weak. Actually, the Republican party has best of both worlds–Armenia has both majoritarian and proportional representation in the parliament. This way, the majoritarian seats are secured for the Republican party (much of it through fraud), and then the Republican party gets the majority of the proportional seats. The rest are split between numerous parties. This system will ensure perpetual Republican control.

    Under all-majoritarian system (as it is in the U.S.), the party that gets most votes in a district wins. This will force the opposition parties to unite, because if they don’t, none of them will get any seats. It will also force the voters to vote for the most likely opposition party, as opposed to splitting their votes between various parties. This will lead to one large strong opposition party, which will be able to accomplish much more than the little parliamentary factions. This is why I advocate the U.S.-model of democracy for Armenia.

    Of course for that, you first need to adopt a new constitution for the republic, which will be done either by forcing the authorities to compromise, or by changing the regime and then adopting a new constitution. But regardless of how regime change is achieved, the new authorities will need to adopt a new constitution as soon as possible, otherwise the democratic government will slip into an authoritarian one, just as it happened in the early 1990’s.

  9. avatar vart adjemian // March 19, 2013 at 11:06 pm // Reply

    The intent is not to have an argument with Vahagn, but to clarify a point that he has made.
    The US does not have a style of two party system.Indeed in addition to Democrats,Republicans,there are three other parties ie Libertarian, Green Party and Constitution party. Moreover, there are more than a dozen other parties, not known or active nationally but play a role in State Elections. Neither US law nor the Constitution states that US is only to have two parties.
    Over the years, the Democratic and Republican parties ended up being the two parties that dominated the elections and the majority in the Congress.
    However, I agree with his point on proportional representation. In most democratic countries the winners of elections are decided by 50% of the vote plus 1 (one).
    The point I was making is that the Republican Party in Armenia has absolute majority in the parliament ; in any democratic country,the majority, or a majority formed by coalition(s) , rules the parliament .
    The only way for the opposition to be effective and successful, they have to come together and form a solid coalition for the common cause and purpose.
    I still have no idea what is the difference between these parties. If their only intent
    is to have few seats with the proportional representation, Armenia is sadly doomed.
    Hovanissian and the party leaders should come together and see what they have in common. Indeed as humans we all have different opinions and interests, but it is undeniable that Armenians of integrity, love of country and love of each other can definitely agree on what is needed to fix the ills of Armenia.
    Vart Adjemian

    • I agree that the U.S. constitution and laws do not mandate a two party system. It is a natural result of the majoritarian (or rather, plurality) election system.

      It would be desirable if the Armenian political parties united out of the love of country, but in the long run, ambitions take over. The beauty of the U.S. system is that it does not assume that people will put their ambitions aside but in fact expects them to and makes sure that these ambitions benefit the country. One of the principles underlying the U.S. system was “ambition against ambition,” as stated in one of the Federalist papers ( I think it was number 51).

      However, for Armenia to get to that point and adopt such a successful system, I agree, either the opposition has to unite now and push for change, or Raffi and his followers need to be able to galvanize greater numbers of the population to bring about change.

    • Correction to the above: The U.S. system expects politicians to have ambitions and makes sure that these ambitions benefit the country.

  10. avatar gaytzag palandjian // March 21, 2013 at 10:51 am // Reply

    I have to point out that the two party rule is originallly from England the Tories and the labpour party. These are not actually representative of the today´s world.
    For in other european countries that does not exist.Instead there are many such with their own party liens , Agendas and do not stick to White or Black so to say.The Christian Democrats, Democrats ,Social Democrats ,Socialists, the comuunitsts, even others..
    These are in conflict with ea other.They do have their MPs in Parliament and sometimes form coalitions to win over another side etc.,
    Armenia even from the 1918´s had chosen latter rule…
    Now to think of a two party rule rather difficult to implement…
    Question is to have a REAL opposition IN THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY…
    That would solve many problems ,help press the ruling political party that has won the Governance to heed the other side´s propostions ideas etc.,

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