By Hrach Melkumian
The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) coped with voter cynicism and apathy on Saturday as it began its campaign for next month’s parliamentary elections in rural areas southwest of Yerevan.
Leaders of the nationalist party supporting President Robert Kocharian sought to win over an apparently skeptical electorate still focused on the dramatic political battles between the authorities and opposition. Many locals said they lost faith in the electoral process after the recent presidential election marred by fraud allegations.
“I don’t believe in anything now,” said Gevorg Melkonian, a resident of the village of Aragats. “The last elections showed who is who. There was too much fraud.”
“The presidential election was not an election at all; it was a sham. Power was usurped, not elected,” Rafik Galstian, an elderly teacher at the local school, agreed, echoing the opposition discourse.
“They are all liars; no party is worth supporting,” sneered another man in neighboring Arteni village.
It is this kind of sentiment which Vahan Hovannisian and other leaders of Dashnaktsutyun attempted to change as they addressed local people in indoors meetings. Hovannisian blamed their grave socioeconomic woes on what he termed an “army of corrupt bureaucrats” that “doesn’t let the people reap the fruits of their work.”
“What you create you share with those parasites,” he said without naming anyone. He also made no mention of the presidential election.
A major pro-presidential force, Dashnaktsutyun has two ministerial portfolios and holds a dozen seats in the outgoing Armenian parliament. The party, which has branches in major Armenian communities abroad, is looking to increase its presence in Armenia’s leadership as a result of the May 25 elections. It is increasingly distancing itself from the policy record of Prime Minister Andranik Markarian whose Republican Party (HHK) is also a major contender in the parliamentary race.
Dashnaktsutyun has at the same time avoided any attacks on Kocharian whose chief of staff, Artashes Tumanian, is high on the party’s list of election candidates.
Hovannisian said Dashnaktsutyun needs to win many seats in the next National Assembly in order to be able to have a larger impact on government policies and thereby improve the economic situation in the country. “Whom do we need to have in the National Assembly: money bags who know nothing about the law except how to break it or intelligent guys like Artsvik Minasian?” he asked, referring to Dashnaktsutyun’s candidate in the local single-mandate constituency.
The electoral district is partly located in the mountainous Aragatsotn province, whose governor Hrair Karapetian is a senior member of Dashnaktsutyun. One of Minasian’s main rivals there is Nahapet Gevorgian, an incumbent parliament deputy backed by the Republicans. Minasian is also facing several opposition candidates.
The echoes of the presidential vote are still reverberating even in small places like Arteni. As a saleswoman in a grocery shop there told RFE/RL, differing perceptions of its outcome have split the villagers into two mutually hostile camps. “People won’t speak to each other,” she said. “Some support the opposition, others the government. This is no good because the people’s voice would not be heard anyway.”