By Anna Saghabalian
The leaders of Armenia’s two biggest opposition groups exposed on Monday their lukewarm attitude toward local elections scheduled for this fall, saying that the vote is unlikely to be free and fair.
In separate interviews with RFE/RL, Stepan Demirchian of the Artarutyun (Justice) bloc and Artashes Geghamian of the National Unity Party (AMK) appeared to disagree with those who believe that an active opposition participation in the October polls could increase chances of regime change in the country.
“I think that the opposition, and the People’s Party of Armenia in particular, will actively participate in those elections,” Demirchian said, referring to the biggest of the nine parties making up Artarutyun. “We have enough resources and worthy candidates that can do well.”
“But they key question is the establishment of a legitimate government,” he added, using the opposition euphemism for regime change in Yerevan.
Other senior members of Artarutyun have likewise pledged to contest the elections in earnest. But so far there have been no signs of opposition preparations for them.
Geghamian was even more skeptical about the significance of the polls, saying that his party has so far only decided to “seriously oversee” their conduct by the authorities. “Whether or not we will directly participate in the elections will become clear in the coming months,” he said.
Armenian opposition forces have traditionally lacked an interest in the local government bodies that have few powers and are highly dependent on the central government. The opposition also lacks the financial resources and administrative levers that are increasingly important for winning local elections. None of Armenia’s major local communities is controlled by its loyalists.
Geghamian claimed, however, that the opposition is covertly backed by most heads of rural communities. “Virtually every village chief is in opposition to this government because not a single problem facing the vast majority of people in the more than 900 villages across Armenia is being solved,” he said.
Opposition interest in the October elections could be significantly boosted by the authorities’ increasingly likely decision to hold them concurrently with a referendum on constitutional amendments put forward by President Robert Kocharian and his allies. Some opposition leaders have already pledged to turn that vote into a “referendum of confidence” in Kocharian.