The ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) has scoffed at the comments made by its junior coalition partner’s representative who suggested that a clean vote in 2012 would give the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) a majority in parliament.
Vartan Bostanjian, a senior BHK lawmaker, told local media on Thursday that if “equal conditions” were ensured in the conduct of the May 2012 elections to the National Assembly his party would gain more votes and would actually become the winner. The pro-establishment politician, however, conspicuously avoided stating directly that the BHK’s electorate at the moment was bigger than that of the HHK.
The HHK currently holds 64 seats in the 131-seat legislature and enjoys the backing of a majority of 17 “nonaligned” members elected from single-mandate constituencies. In contrast, the BHK, which represents the second largest faction in the legislative body, controls only 18 parliamentary seats.
The two political parties have been partners in the Armenian government since the 2007 parliamentary elections. However, in recent months Armenian media have been actively speculating about growing differences between the two coalition partners ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections and a subsequent presidential ballot slated for 2013.
Despite a memorandum signed last February that effectively commits the BHK and the other coalition party, Orinats Yerkir, to backing the HHK leader and current president Serzh Sarkisian’s presidential bid at the next elections, the BHK has been vague on its immediate plans yet. This stance has also fueled speculation that Armenia’s former president Robert Kocharian may be contemplating a return to major-league politics and could use the BHK, a party believed to be his brainchild, as a political support base to make the comeback. Such assumptions have not been substantiated with any official announcement or statement yet.
In an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am) on Friday, HHK spokesman Eduard Sharmazanov said that the statement of his BHK colleague regarding the Republican potential to win at next year’s elections should be treated “with a great deal of humor”.
“But speaking more seriously, I should say that the recent local elections, the current opinion polls and the efficient policies being carried out by President Sarkisian are more proof that the Republican Party has the biggest chances to achieve a convincing success at the parliamentary elections,” stressed Sharmazanov.
The HHK has never concealed its ambitions to increase its current representation in the National Assembly. Late last month Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian (no relation to the president), who is also an HHK member, warned that those who fail to cooperate with the ruling party would prove political bankrupts. Media immediately qualified the statement as a warning to the BHK, but the political establishment was quick to expound on the remarks, primarily addressing them to “destructive elements”, presumably within the opposition.
Sharmazanov reiterated that the government “has the political will to create equal conditions at the elections” and that “all steps of the authorities are aimed at enabling the country to hold unprecedented free and democratic elections.”
The authorities in Yerevan used several occasions recently to vow a proper conduct of the May 2012 parliamentary elections. In particular, addressing the governing body of the European People’s Party in Brussels on November 8, Prime Minister Sarkisian said that the next vote in Armenia will be more democratic than any of the other elections held in the country since independence.
Meanwhile, the main opposition forces in Armenia have remained skeptical about these assurances, pointing to the authorities’ past electoral record criticized by the West. They also dismiss as insignificant recent amendments to the Electoral Code which the authorities say will complicate vote falsifications.
Still, talking to RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am) on Thursday, Michael Getto, the head of the Washington-based International Foundation for Electoral Systems office in Yerevan, said that for now the Armenian authorities appear to be committed to holding elections that would be widely recognized as free and fair. He said he had arrived at this conclusion as a result of his meeting with senior Armenian officials.