A record-high number of journalists are joining Armenia’s unfolding parliamentary race as candidates of key pro-government and opposition parties.
About a dozen of them plan to run for the National Assembly under the system of proportional representation and in single-mandate constituencies in Yerevan.
One of them, Margarit Yesayan of the independent “Aravot” daily, is expected to be included on the electoral list of President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK). Samvel Farmanian, Sarkisian’s former press secretary who is now the news chief of Armenian Public Television, will run on an individual basis in a single-mandate constituency in Yerevan’s northern Nor-Nork district.
The Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), the HHK’s junior coalition partner, will have Petros Ghazarian, a prominent television talk show host, on its slate. Ghazarian’s Kentron TV channel is controlled by BHK leader Gagik Tsarukian.
Satik Seyranian, editor of the independent “168 Zham” newspaper, will be vying for a parliament seat in a constituency covering another Yerevan district, Arabkir. “It’s a great experience for a journalist to feel the whole [electoral] process on their skin,” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am), explaining her unexpected decision.
Seyranian’s main rival is Artak Sargsian, the government-linked owner of a supermarket chain. She claimed to be undaunted by his financial resources and government connections.
“I am very conscious of financial and intellectual capacities of my rivals but not inhibited by that in any way,” she said. “I’m not naïve, I do realize that there will be vote bribes.”
Seyranian insisted that the Arabkir race will not be decided by possible vote buying. “Citizens have changed,” she said. “They know what they want from their deputies. You can’t buy them anymore.”
The editor expects to run as a candidate of the opposition Free Democrats party. She denied any conflict between her opposition credentials and the fact that her equally well-known husband Hovannes Shahinian is an HHK member who has served as Arabkir’s mayor in the past.
What is more, Seyranian acknowledged that Shahinian may actually manage her election campaign. “He will not meddle in my political ties,” she said.
Gohar Vezirian, an outspoken journalist with the pro-opposition daily “Chorrord Inknishkhanutyun,” will be facing an even more daunting task in one of three constituencies encompassing Yerevan’s southern Erebuni district. The area has long been known as a de facto fiefdom of Mher Sedrakian, a former Erebuni district mayor who holds sway there. Sedrakian has not ruled out the possibility of joining the race.
“There is a notion that the society needs new faces, a generation change and things like that,” Vezirian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “I just want to understand whether this notion has a popular basis or is just a myth.”
“For example, I consider myself a new face. Let’s see if I can prevail in a contest with oligarchs and other old faces. If they win, then it will mean that something is wrong with the society,” she said.
Erebuni is also notorious for election-related violent attacks on opposition proxies and journalists.
“I wouldn’t say it’s more dangerous to run in Erebuni than, say, in [the Yerevan districts of] Malatia-Sebastia or Avan,” Vezirian said. “Unfortunately, the situation in Armenia is such that all places are dangerous in that sense.”
Only two of the 131 members of the current National Assembly are former journalists. Both Naira Zohrabian and Aram Safarian were elected to the parliament on the BHK ticket in 2007.