By Ruzanna Stepanian
Two top leaders of the Armenian opposition have reaffirmed their lack of interest in nearly one third of the parliament seats that will be contested on an individual basis in the elections slated for May 12.
Under Armenian law, the so-called “majoritarian” seats will be distributed in 41 single-mandate constituencies across the country. The other 90 parliament seats will be up for grabs under the system of proportional representation whereby voters choose parties or alliances, as opposed to individual candidates.
Opposition candidates have fared extremely poorly in the majoritarian races that are increasingly characterized by vote buying and voter intimidation. The bulk of the individuals elected to the National Assembly from the single-mandate districts are wealthy government-connected businessmen that hold sway in a particular part of Yerevan and the country.
Consequently, the most prominent opposition figures did not run for parliament on an individual basis in the previous elections held in May 2003, making it easier for the government camp to retain control of the 131-seat National Assembly. Armenia’s most radical opposition party, Hanrapetutyun (Republic), suggested late last year that each of them stand in one of the 41 districts and work together in trying to win as many majoritarian seats as possible. Hanrapetutyun’s outspoken leader, Aram Sarkisian, has already expressed such an intention, as has another radical oppositionist, Aram Karapetian.
“If famous opposition politicians join the fray, they will help to make the public more active and foil government plans,” argued Suren Sureniants, a senior member of Hanrapetutyun. “This is the logic behind our proposal. We propose to open a new front [against the government] that would be led by party leaders.”
“By running in concrete electoral districts, the leaders must protect the people against possible inroads by criminal elements,” Sureniants told RFE/RL. “Only respected politicians can do that.”
The idea has been approved in principle by the leaders of other, larger opposition groups, but they do not seem in any rush to open negotiations on ways of putting it into practice. The two men who were President Robert Kocharian’s main challengers in the 2003 presidential election told RFE/RL on Monday that they themselves will not field their candidacies in any electoral district and will only top the proportional representation lists of their respective parties instead.
“It would be illogical for a leader with nationwide ambitions to compete in a single district,” said Artashes Geghamian of the National Unity Party (AMK). “Everyone would agree that an army commander should lead the entire front, rather than one of its sections, no matter how important.”
“The leaders of large parties should concentrate on their proportional representation lists and strive for the victory of their parties,” agreed Stepan Demirchian of the People’s Party of Armenia (HZhK). He said although the HZhK has not yet made a final decision on the issue, it “will put the emphasis on the party list in any case.”
Another opposition heavyweight, former parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian, said late last week that his Orinats Yerkir Party is still weighing up its options. Also undecided is Raffi Hovannisian, the popular leader of the Zharangutyun party.
(Photolur photo: Demirchian, left, and Geghamian speak at a joint news conference.)