YEREVAN—As with the other 11 registered parties in the upcoming snap elections slated for December 9, the Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) launched its campaign this week by unveiling a number of billboards across the country. The RPA had recently announced its intention to run after sitting out the Yerevan Municipal poll. The vote takes place seven months after President Serzh Sargsyan was ousted from his newly acquired post of Prime Minister by the Velvet Revolution.
Most party ads have been featuring variations of a standard design displaying the candidate’s face and party logo capped with a slogan. The RPA’s posters are no different, but they have generated some controversy among Armenia’s citizens.
The posters display the faces of some of the party’s most prominent candidates in a monochromatic design, which tout different slogans, but all start with the phrase “If you worry about… ” (“Եթե մտահօգ ես… ”).
Sources say even the choice of colors on the posters is not random. High-ranking RPA official, Armen Ashotyan, says the palette was a reference to controversial comments made by then-mayoral candidate and Pashinyan ally, Hayk Marukyan, who described the vote as a struggle between light versus darkness.
The Republican party HQ has released seven variations of these posters. The campaign includes slogans like “If you’re concerned about border security, vote for #1” (#1 being the Republican Party’s placement on the ballot).
Messages like “If you are concerned about losing your job, vote #1” have garnered particular scorn for their perceived cynicism. “Almost two decades of Republican Party rule failed to generate any significant job creation in Armenia,” one voter, who preferred to remain anonymous, told the Weekly, “and here they are promising to be the party of economic prosperity and political security.”
On social media, Armenian citizens responded with parodies of the Republicans’ tactic. One, which uses the same basic design and font type with a slight variation on the message, reads, “If you have memory-loss, vote Republican,” referencing the ironic fact that the RPA slogans are denouncing the policies of a seven-month old government, while having failed to tackle the very same issues during their 20-year long majority in Parliament . Another depicts a scantily clad phone-sex operator with the slogan, in the same font as the Republican Party adverts: “If you’re feeling lonely, call Kara.”
One viral video superimposed the audio from the Republican Party’s actual campaign advertisement—expressing doubt about the new government’s ability to maintain growth, prosperity and security—with images of the Republicans failing at those very things.
Living up to the time-honored Armenian tradition of capitalizing on trends for commercial purposes, a Thai massage salon in Yerevan took inspiration from the RPA’s campaign aesthetic for a new ad telling customers: “If you are concerned about your nervous system, choose the hot rock massage.”
Some of the RPA’s posters, however, reveal a broader strategy. In the months since losing their parliamentary majority, Republicans have stated their intention to reinvent themselves into a new opposition force, structured around populist and conservative principles. The party’s electoral platform lays out the following two critical principles for its ‘national-conservative’ doctrine: 1) the importance of the Armenian Apostolic Church and 2) that traditional families form the core of Armenian society. The platform also stresses the importance of former Defense Minister Vigen Sargsyan’s “Nation-Army” concept. This strategy has been implemented over the last two months, in the controversy over a planned Christian LGBT event in Yerevan and the attempts to table several bills designed to pigeonhole Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan as a threat to Armenia’s national security as well as traditional values. This conservative approach is now embodied in a poster that reads: “If you’re concerned about preserving traditional values, vote Republican.”
Though this campaign may seem blissfully sardonic to many Armenian voters, the message is resonating with some. One voter who spoke to the Weekly on the condition of anonymity, remarked, “It’s true that the Republicans made a lot of mistakes during their term, but the mistakes committed by the Pashinyan government in the last 7 months are incalculably worse.” They added “Pashinyan’s distasteful decorum has given me more respect for once-unloved RPA.”