Now that the dust has settled it’s time to reflect upon the Yerevan municipal elections as an attempt to understand what unfolded and what went wrong.
The elections held on May 5 did not by any means stand apart from any other recent election in terms of lack of transparency and abundant fraud.
According to the Central Electoral Commission, the Republican Party of Armenia unsurprisingly came out on top with 55.9 percent of the vote. Its incumbent mayor, Taron Markaryan, is expected to remain in office. The Prosperous Armenia Party, whose candidate was Vartan Oskanyan, came in a distant second place, earning 23 percent, while the Barev Yerevan block initiated by Raffi Hovannisian won 8.5 percent. All other parties were shut out. Forty-two seats on the Council of Elders will be occupied by Republicans, while Prosperous Armenia will have 17 and Barev Yerevan 6. Since the latter two are in the minority, they will not be able to block controversial decisions or have their own passed without Republican support.
The usual shenanigans attributed to the ruling party were reported—bribing, ballot stuffing, voting in place of an absentee, assisting the elderly with how to vote, inaccurate ballot tallies, and the list goes on. One can just imagine what went on behind closed doors at the Central Electoral Commission in the evening. There’s no way of knowing just how credible the official results are.
iDitord.org, a site where election violations can be recorded from anywhere using a mobile device, registered 417 cases.
Yet despite the allegations of fraud, the human rights defender, Karen Andreasyan, received only 19 complaints of violations and concluded that the elections were “competitive and free.”
Another 160 complaints recorded in the districts of Malatia-Sebastia, Shengavit, and Erebuni-Nubarashen were tossed out of court by the Electoral Commission during hearings that were held on May 8. None of them were even reviewed.
The notion of whether bribe-taking in some form is justifiable opens the doors for debate. Naturally, bribing is an unacceptable practice. But let’s consider what senior citizens face living on a 20,000-dram monthly pension (about $50 at the current exchange rate of 406 dram to the dollar). A standard bribe of 5,000 dram buys them a week-long supply of cheese, priced at an average cost of 2,500 dram per kilo; a kilo or two of potatoes; some greens; bread; and, to splurge, a bottle of cheap domestic vodka (which incidentally also serves as excellent window cleaner). I am hard pressed to fault them for giving in to temptation.
Others justify taking the bribe by reasoning that they can vote for the candidate of their choice anyway. “They’re handing out money, why shouldn’t I take it?” is also a popular rationale for reaping some extra pocket money. They have resigned themselves to the widely accepted norm that the authorities will hold on to power no matter what. So why not make a few bucks in the process?
The people have essentially spoken during the election season. They allowed the corrupt practices during the voting process to fester, and they shamelessly took advantage of whatever favors were offered. People in both opposition and pro-government camps permitted the vote to be falsified three separate times within the timespan of a year. Despite the complaining and whining about how the government is ineffective and generally ignores the plight of the majority of Armenians, citizens allowed the Republican Party to retain its ironclad grip on virtually all branches of government. Nine out of Armenia’s 10 regions are currently led by Republican governors.
Former Foreign Minister Alexander Arzoumanian believes that the people will eventually force the government to resign through popular activism in the not-so-distant future after finally reaching the breaking point. He thinks that anticipated change will not unfold in another election, but long before. If he turns out to be right, it will be a great day for Armenia.
But the Armenian Diaspora must push for that activism to bear fruit. With all the activists we have around the world advocating for genocide recognition, imagine what could be accomplished in Armenia if they only inculcated their disillusioned compatriots in the homeland with their expertise and insight. Instead, we have a disillusioned public going through the motions of casting their ballots or not giving a damn, choosing to boycott the vote or profit from it. This destructive cycle will only repeat unless Armenian citizens willingly put an end to the falsifications and intimidation that dictate the outcome of the vote—unless they finally decide to take control of their own destinies and put an end to their persecution. It’s up to all of us.