By Anna Saghabalian
Opposition leader Raffi Hovannisian lamented on Tuesday what he described as widespread popular apathy towards politics, saying that Armenians must engage in civic activism more actively if they want prosperity and rule of law. He expressed concern in particular at the prospect of massive vote buying by pro-government forces and candidates in next year’s parliamentary elections.
“It has to be understood that he who sells his and his children’s future will not have a place in the company of those who are building a homeland of vote bribes,” Hovannisian said, referring to a practice that was commonplace in the last local and national elections.
“The public itself must realize that it must actively participate in all processes,” he told a congress of his Zharangutyun (Heritage) party which is expected to be a major opposition contender of the 2007 vote.
It was the first such gathering since the start of Zharangutyun’s bitter confrontation with the Armenian authorities that was sparked by Hovannisian’s stinging attacks on President Robert Kocharian late last year. The party’s leadership was controversially evicted from its Yerevan headquarters last March and has still not been able to reclaim the state-owned property despite a court verdict that effectively declared the eviction illegal.
The congress, attended by over 200 party activists, took place in the small conference hall of the Armenian Writers Union. Zharangutyun leaders said they planned to gather 600 delegates but could not lease a larger hall due to an unofficial government ban.
The gathering followed the launch by Hovannisian and another prominent opposition leader, Vazgen Manukian, late last month of a broad-based “apolitical” movement tasked with trying to boost the civic consciousness of Armenia’s population. They say this is much more important for the democratization of Armenia’s political system than government assurances that the next Armenian elections will be free and fair.
“In my opinion, a civic mobilization, a reassessment of civic activism is imperative,” Hovannisian told RFE/RL. “Citizens of the Republic of Armenia must finally realize that the fate of our country hinges on their votes, their participation, their activism.”
“A whole people are outside the opposition and government camps, indifferent, not affiliated with any party, stripped of rights. We should bring that overwhelming majority into play,” said the U.S.-born politician. Civil society representatives and politicians committed to democracy have a big role to play in getting this message across, he added.
(Photolur photo: Hovannisian, left, joins in the collective rendition of the Armenian national anthem at the start of the Zharangutyun congress.)