YEREVAN (A.W.)—In the days following the April 2 Parliamentary Elections in Armenia, Armenian Weekly Editor Rupen Janbazian sat down with Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) Bureau member and director of its Central Hai Tahd office Giro Manoyan to discuss the results of the election and the party’s work with the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (RPA).
Editor’s note: This interview was conducted before the ARF and the RPA entered a political coalition on May 11.
Rupen Janbazian: The ARF Supreme Council commended the 2017 Parliamentary Elections—especially the nature of the election and the political forces participating—shortly after the results were announced. How were these different from elections in the past?
Giro Manoyan: The changes that were made in the country’s Electoral Code actually worked in the sense that nobody is talking about violations in the precincts—like, for example, about ballot stuffing. [These sort of violations] could not have happened this time around.
Actually, a very large number of voters participated in these elections. Although the ARF Supreme Council’s statement says that the high voter turnout should be examined, it also says it was a positive step, since a large segment of society participated in the vote.
Overall, the process was orderly with not too many problems. Not that we had no problems whatsoever, but we had far less problems than in previous elections.
One important fact that should be recognized is that we were electing the highest authority in the country, which before, was the President. After every Presidential Election since 1996, we have had a polarization of the society, because one person would win and the rest would lose. This time around, the National Assembly is the highest authority and no such polarization has taken place.
The fact that there were a large number of observers—including local observers—was a very positive thing, because it shows that society is taking responsibility of political processes. All this is positive.
Of course the major issue in the statement is the abuse of financial and administrative resources, which, although is punishable, was happening until Election Day. That was the downside. But we believe that in time the constitutional changes taking place in the coming months, will also that form of abuse of resources less possible.
R.J.: How so?
G.M.: The police, for example, would be an independent body, rather than being led by one individual—the President. Furthermore, when the Judiciary eventually becomes independent—of Legislative and Executive—the necessary means will be created to fight such efforts.
We need time to educate citizens that they should not be scared; that no one can monitor them and know who they voted for. There were efforts to scare people and we know this for a fact.
R.J.: What are some of the ways they were intimidated?
G.M.: Some have gone so far to ask voters to put a piece of string of a specific color in their voting envelopes. That only creates fear in the voter. I mean, there is no way the Central Electoral Commission can follow or track this, but it creates fear in the voter who might believe that they can.
I would say that the so-called “rating system,” did more than anybody could have imagined in bringing out the vote. It is very clear that the Republican Party (RPA), which was the major proponent of this rating system, gathered much more votes than ever before. And that seems to be the major reason why so many people participated in the vote.
R.J.: An election monitor that we spoke to told us of a list being compared by an RPA representative with the main voters list at one of the precincts—perhaps as a way of pressuring and reaching out to the people that had not yet voted to come out.
G.M.: I hope the observer registered what sounds like a violation. Election Commission members can check the voters list, which is being signed by the voters when they come in, but the party representatives cannot.
Not all parties participating in the election have representatives in the precinct election commissions, but all parties can have representatives just to monitor and of course they can complain too. The lists are public and technically anybody can check on the list to see who came but just coming to the vote does not mean they voted for whoever certain party representatives wanted.
R.J.: In its statement, ARF says that they made some considerable strides forward. How do you assess this? Is it regarding the two extra seats in Parliament?
G.M.: Well it’s not just two more seats. If you compare, we had five seats in the 121 member Parliament. Now we have seven in the 105-member Parliament. Also, in several regions, we had more votes than we have ever had before. In the 2012 elections, we had some 85,000 votes. In this election, we received some 103,000 votes. The net gain, if you wish, is 18,000.
Actually, in some areas we lost, especially in Yerevan. Yerevan has always been our weakest region.
R.J.: Yerevan always been a weak point for the ARF, especially in these elections. Why?
G.M.: There are some explanations and these are my personal examinations.
First of all, we don’t have a large number of rank and file here [in Yerevan]. Yerevan has about a third of the country’s population. Only about 20 percent of the [ARF’s] membership is from Yerevan. I think that’s the first weak point.
You might ask why again. That is an issue for the party. It has been an issue for the party to attract young people and to be able to organize. There are some opinions that our party discipline and our bylaws are not very attractive for young people who want to join a party and get into politics. It might take some time for people—if they join the ARF—to move ahead for the party and then consequently be involved in the politics of the party.
Another reason is that almost all parties are centered in Yerevan and there is very strong competition.
A third reason—again my personal opinion—is that there is a strong old guard in Yerevan—meaning an old guard from the communist era, who have never been in favor of the ARF.
It is obvious that we have a lot of work to do in Yerevan. And I think in the following years, that’s where our focus will be—without disregarding the other regions, of course.
R.J.: One party, rather political bloc, that did quite well was the newly formed Yelk bloc, who placed in third. Why do you think Yelk did so well? Do they not face the same issues the ARF faces in Yerevan?
G.M.: Not really. First of all, as you say, Yelk is a bloc. They are [comprised of] three parties and two of them are new. At least in one of them, there are many young activist who were active in, for example, the Dem Em movement—a movement which [the ARF] actually worked very actively in. And they worked with us.
Personally, I hope that Yelk will not have the fate that a lot of people expect it to have—that in the next few months they might break up. My only hope is that will not happen, because a lot of people have put faith in them.
R.J.: In what ways has the cooperation with the RPA benefited the ARF and Armenia in general?
G.M.: I think just in the period before the official election campaigning period started, when the former Prime Minister [Hovik Abrahamyan] resigned, it was actually clear that the RPA had problems within itself. I believe this partially continues today too, with those who were not in favor of the constitutional changes, since those changes narrowed their influence—not only in politics, but in the economy and throughout the country.
The major problem in Armenia is that the political elite and the economic elite have become the same. And for some, being in politics is not for the betterment of the country and the population in general but for the betterment of their own wealth.
Abrahamyan eventually resigned and left the party, and his family members who had different positions left as well. There are others in the party [that have left] as well. There are those who are not and were not in favor of the constitutional changes.
One major reason I think president Sarkisian asked the ARF to join the government is to try to have a trustworthy political force to carry out the [constitutional] changes and we have been able to do that in the sense that the Electoral Code was adopted, the new law on the National Assembly was adopted, the law on the political parties was adopted. There are some members—interest groups, if you may—within the RPA, who are not necessarily in favor of continuing this process of change.
R.J.: Some have argued that the Coalition with the ruling-RPA has hurt the ARF’s reputation.
G.M.: Some ten or so years ago, I wrote an article in a book the ARF published on several issues pertaining to the party. In that article, I said—and continue to believe—that any party that is in power gets hurt—its credibility gets hurt. Otherwise, we would have the same party elected over and over again in every democracy.
Some might argue that the RPA itself is discredited. Even when the current Prime Minister [Karen Karapetyan] joined the RPA, he announced that his personal popularity suffered, and that was true.
For us, this is not a marriage—it is a cooperation of convenience, not even a marriage of convenience. It’s not like we’re in love. It’s not like we don’t criticize each other or agree on everything.
This has been the case when we have been in opposition and when we have cooperated with them. Of course, for us, a major issue is also to be—more or less—equal partners, in the sense that we should have our input in important decisions and the direction in which the country should be headed.
If there are deep, major disagreements, the ARF can leave any cooperation at any time. This has been in the case in the past and continues to hold true. We haven’t had a problem with doing that in the past.
For us, it is only natural that at least in the eyes of some, the ARF has lost some popularity. I would argue that the ARF has also gained the respect of many, because the party has been able to realize a lot of its goals while in government in the past.