Campaigning has officially begun for Armenia’s May 6 parliamentary elections, with most of the main contenders unveiling their electoral manifestos during rallies and indoor gatherings.
The Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), the presumptive election favorite led by President Serzh Sarkisian, organized no such public events at the weekend and on Monday. Sarkisian is expected to personally lead most of its upcoming campaign rallies.
Sarkisian tops the list of HHK candidates, a fact highlighting the importance of the elections for his political future. The presidential party has already made clear its intention to win the vote by a landslide and put its leader on course to win a second term in office next year.
The HHK’s main partner in the ruling coalition, the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), kicked off its campaign on Sunday with a rally held in Abovian, a town about 15 kilometers north of Yerevan. Abovian and surrounding villages have been BHK leader Gagik Tsarukian’s political stronghold for over a decade.
Armenia - Orinats Yerkir party leader Artur Baghdasarian (C) is greeted by supporters during a campaign rally in Yerevan's Liberty Square, 7Apr2012.
Orinats Yerkir, the third party represented in Sarkisian’s coalition government, rallied thousands of people in Yerevan’s Liberty Square on Saturday, one day before the official start of campaigning which coincided with the Easter holiday. Its leader, Artur Baghdasarian, lamented a “dearth of law and justice” in Armenia as he addressed the crowd.
“We must turn our country into a country of law and justice,” Baghdasarian said. He insisted that Orinats Yerkir’s approval ratings are rising “day by day” and denounced his detractors who claim that the party will struggle to win any seats in the next National Assembly.
Armenia’s three main opposition groups plan to hold their first campaign rallies on Tuesday. Two of them, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) and an alliance of the Zharangutyun and Free Democrats parties, on Monday presented their manifestos at indoor events.
Zharangutyun leader Raffi Hovannisian announced the start of his bloc’s “victorious path to a new Armenia” in a speech before hundreds of activists that gathered in a Yerevan hotel auditorium. “For the first and last time in Armenia’s modern history we will return power to the Armenian people,” he declared.
Hovannisian, who had served as Armenia’s first foreign minister, assured the enthusiastic audience that the Zharangutyun-led bloc will “participate in the formation of the executive branch, the government, the presidency and the judicial system.” “He who doesn’t believe in this today will believe in 30 days,” he said.
In separate remarks to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am), Hovannisian claimed that Zharangutyun and the Free Democrats are aiming for an election victory. “In case of free, fair and transparent elections, if they take place for the first time in the 20-year history of our independent statehood, Zharangutyun will come in first in Yerevan and all over Armenia,” he said.
The U.S.-born opposition leader would not say what his political force will do if it considers the election results fraudulent. “In any case, we will wake up in a new Armenia on May 7,” he said.
Armenia - Leaders of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation present the party's electoral manifesto in Yerevan, 9Apr2012.
Dashnaktsutyun leaders, meanwhile, promised to seek “complete regime change” in Armenia at their separate platform presentation. One of them, Armen Rustamian, explained that the party’s aim is to not only unseat the current Armenian leadership but also reform the “system catering for it.”
“We have had three presidents to date and unfortunately all those presidents have maintained that system which has been fueling popular discontent,” said Rustamian.
In particular, Dashnaktsutyun advocates Armenia’s transformation into a parliamentary republic which would curtail sweeping powers currently wielded by the president of the republic. The party’s manifesto also promises a tougher crackdown on corruption, greater government involvement in the economic and far more social spending.
Rustamian noted that Dashnaktsutyun will be ready to cut post-election power-sharing deals with other political forces provided that they support its key campaign pledges. It was not clear, however, whether the party would be ready to join a new coalition government formed by Sarkisian and the HHK.
Dashnaktsutyun was part of the current coalition from 2008-2009.