By Emil Danielyan
Armenia’s main opposition alliance accused the authorities on Tuesday of doing nothing to prevent a repeat of serious vote irregularities in the upcoming parliamentary elections which it said would have “disastrous” effects on the country.
Stepan Demirchian and other leading members of the Artarutyun (Justice) bloc told hundreds of its activists to brace themselves for another showdown with President Robert Kocharian whom they hope to unseat by winning a majority in the parliament.
“The country’s future is in danger,” Demirchian declared in a speech at Artarutyun’s morale-boosting conference in Yerevan. “One more fraudulent election, and Armenia will be doomed to become a third-class country.”
Demirchian, alluding to the recent presidential election which the opposition believes was falsified by Kocharian, warned of “disastrous consequences” that will await Armenia if the May 25 polls, too, are judged to be undemocratic by international observers. “The people must be able to form a government which they want,” he said. “Only in that case can the country develop.”
The disputed presidential poll, which Demirchian claims to have won, figured prominently in the speeches delivered by other Artarutyun leaders at the packed conference hall. “The authorities have not only discredited themselves, but also the country,” said Aram Sarkisian, a former prime minister. “They are now doing nothing to rule out more such falsifications.”
“We have to put up a fight, a serious fight in these elections,” Sarkisian added.
His point was picked up by Vazgen Manukian, another ex-premier and veteran opposition figure, who said “the society has the right to use any method of protecting itself” if the elections are again marred by fraud. He said the opposition should “unite and break this system” if the authorities prevent it from winning a parliamentary majority by legal means.
Manukian also denounced Kocharian and other top government officials for arguing that Armenia is not yet prepared to meet Western standards for democratic elections. “You can’t become honest little by little,” he said. “You are either honest or dishonest.”
The chairman of the Central Election Commission (CEC), Artak Sahradian, claimed on Monday that Armenia has so far failed to hold a free and fair election because it lacks traditions of democracy. Sahradian also said that the CEC is doing its best to ensure that the legislative polls are more democratic, a claim rejected by Artarutyun.
Several major opposition candidates have already been denied registration. One of them, Aram Karapetian, placed third in the February 19 first round of the presidential election, winning about 3 percent of the vote.
The Artarutyun conference came mid-way through the election campaign characterized by growing mutual attacks by major parties supporting Kocharian. Some local analysts believe that the infighting plays into Artarutyun’s hands. But the bloc hopes to capitalize primarily on Demirchian’s stronger-than-expected showing in the presidential race.
Its leaders sought on Tuesday to put an optimistic spin on their failure so far to force Kocharian into resignation. One of them, Shavarsh Kocharian, argued that the Armenian opposition has grown much stronger over the past four months and offered the electorate a viable alternative to the current regime.
“Our participation in the presidential elections unmasked the anti-popular regime,” he said. “Today they are standing bare in front of the people and the international community.”