While more powers are expected to be given to local government bodies in Armenia under proposed constitutional amendments, the country’s main opposition parties still remain skeptical about their chances of winning races in communities where government-linked families usually hold sway.
The changes to the Constitution unveiled by a committee of experts earlier this month suggest that under the new parliamentary form of government that Armenia is likely to switch to representatives of local government bodies, along with members of parliament, will also be involved in the electoral college that will elect the country’s largely ceremonial president.
Opposition parties have mostly avoided fielding candidates in local races, considering it to be a waste of time and resources given the alleged use of various vote-buying techniques, pressure and administrative resources by the authorities.
Another round of local elections is expected to be held in Armenia in September, with 22 communities in nine provinces set to elect their leaders and local assemblies.
Yet, most opposition parties do not appear keen on participating in the upcoming local ballots either. Arman Musinian, a spokesperson for the main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am) that the question has not been discussed in the party yet. And Armen Martirosian, deputy chairman of another parliamentary opposition party, Heritage, said they considered participation in these elections “pointless”.
“There is no political process for political parties to take part in. Either administrative resources are used or it will be a choice from among members of the extended family [of a local tycoon],” he said in an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am).
Government representatives, meanwhile, have criticized the opposition for its refusal to field candidates in local polls, arguing that this should be the “first step” on the way to achieving success in any general election.
And now that the new Constitution is likely to provide local government bodies with more functions, the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) believes that the opposition’s active participation in local elections may play a major role also in the election of the president who will still formally remain the head of state.
Vahram Baghdasarian, the leader of the HHK’s parliamentary faction, on Thursday called on the opposition to take an active part in the upcoming local elections.
Talking to RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am), he said: “Our opposition political forces claim that 70 percent of the population today is dissatisfied with the authorities. Let them use this 70 percent to form their electors later. Unfortunately, they are very passive.”
Meanwhile, both the HAK and Heritage say their main objective today is to prevent the passage through a referendum of the constitutional amendments that they believe are designed to ensure that President Serzh Sarkisian, whom the current Armenian Constitution bars from seeking a third presidential term, remains in power in some other capacity after completing his tenure in 2018.
Last year Sarkisian pledged not to seek a top government post if the constitutional reform was carried out.