By Edmond Y. Azadian
Armenia’s election campaign is running at full steam as April 2 is around the corner. There are nine alliances participating in the elections. Their slogans are out and most of the parties are promising “change.” But no one has yet revealed the direction of that “change” because based on past experience, after the elections, the direction of those changes is in reverse.
The polls are out and they express the popular sentiment fairly accurately. But the outcome of the elections may be completely different because most people do not vote the way they think. They are not at liberty to vote their conscience. If they are employed by the government; their destiny is predetermined; their vote is not a personal vote, but is an institutional vote. It has already been decided for them.
If they want to continue their employment past April 2, they better vote “wisely.”
Conversely, if they are not employed by the government, they can sell their vote in the open market. The price fluctuates from one precinct to another but the going rate is anywhere between $50-$100, a sum which can put food on the table for a few days. After that, the party which buys the vote loses interest in the fate of the voter.
No one can say Armenia restricts freedom of speech. People are free to express their opinions. Even newspapers are free to write anything and everything. For that reason, the media can be manipulated by individuals and groups to malign their opponents with impunity. The press stoops to astonishingly low levels since they are not beholden to any degree of accountability or libel laws.
Dealing with the issue of freedom of speech and press, two determining factors have to be considered. There are countries like Turkey where freedom is restricted and retribution is fast. Unlike Turkey, Armenians can say and make any obscene statement about the president freely. Therefore, the first component is the ability or freedom to express oneself. The other component of free media is the impact of your statement.
In civilized countries, public opinion matters. In Armenia, the impact of free speech is nil. No one listens to nor wishes to hear what the public thinks or wants.
In the same vein, polls are not necessarily arbiters of truth. The Gallup International Association has conducted a survey and the results reflect the popular sentiment at this moment. Here are those results: Tsarukyan Alliance 26.4 percent; the Ruling Republican Party 22.8 percent; Yelk (Exit), headed by Nikol Pashinyan 4.3 percent; Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutiun), 3.9 percent; Free Democrats, headed by the former Foreign Minister Alik Arzoumanyan 3.4 percent; Armenian Renaissance 2.7 percent; Armenian National Congress-Armenian Popular pParty alliance headed by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, 2.6 percent; the Seyran Ohanyan, Raffi Hovannisian and Vartan Oskanian Alliance, 1.8 percent and the Communist Party of Armenia, 1 percent.
When the real opposition is in jail, some groups may pretend to play the part of the opposition, to the pleasure of the ruling party.
Many under-the-table deals are already in motion. Ter-Petrosian’s alliance may win 2-3 seats in the parliament, but if Serzh Sargsyan has promised them five seats, the Central Election Commission will oblige. Similarly, deals are made with the ARF and even with Tsarukyan’s alliance, which may emerge as the second most powerful group in the parliament and a power sharing arrangement is already in the works.
The ruling party has resorted to an electoral ruse. The slate is headed by three charismatic leaders who cover up for the oligarchs and Mafioso figures in the background.
Those three figures are Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan, who has charisma and popularity. He is running the campaign for the Republican Party, even though he cannot run as a candidate because he does not meet the four-year residency requirement. However, down the road, conflict is inevitable if he remains in Armenia and his popularity continues to soar, because during the election of the prime minister in 2018, he will face the incumbent president, Serzh Sargsyan, who has determined to perpetuate his rule.
The second person of equal charisma is Minister of Culture Armen Amirian. He has run the government media for a long time and his name is associated with many spectacular cultural achievements.
The third figure is Arpine Hovhannisyan, Armenia’s justice minister, who is a young woman, one of the few in high positions of power.
Besides the Tsarukyan Alliance, the other noteworthy alliance is the Ohanyan-Hovannisian-Oskanian group, which has the stigma of raising the opposition flag, after falling from favor from having served with the power elite for so many years.
Incidentally, only the Tsarukyan Alliance has been warned by the Central Election Commission not to bribe the voters, while all the groups entertain hefty war chests. It is believed that the government party will spend $100 million to win the election, to preserve its hold on power and to continue robbing the people.
People are asking for accountability about the ruling party’s past performance. The legitimate question is: should the Republican Party continue to remain in power when the economy is deteriorating, when the government has not devised a plan to stop the depopulation of the country and has been a party to the army corruption that resulted in unnecessary deaths as a result of the April 2, 2016 Azerbaijani attack when the Armenian side lacked bullets or guns to fight off the Azeris.
The ARF has abandoned its breast-beating patriotic slogans and has come up with the most professional platform addressing bread-and-butter issues, and other vital issues such as ecology and other relevant problems.
However, the problem with this party is credibility: too many flip-flops in the past, joining the ruling party or pretending to play the part of the opposition on demand.
Although too much hot rhetoric is filling the air, there is general apathy about the elections. The general mood is that nothing will change and no one is powerful enough to unseat the ruling elite.
The dreams of the people do not match the promises of the candidates.