Campaigning for Armenia’s upcoming parliamentary elections officially began at the weekend, with President Serzh Sarkisian expressing confidence that his Republican Party (HHK) will win them and remain in power.
A total of five political parties and four alliances are vying for at least 101 seats in the new Armenian parliament that will be elected on April 2 under a complex system of proportional representation. The parties and the blocs will have to win at least 5 percent and 7 percent of the vote respectively in order to be represented in the next National Assembly.
The elections will be held one year before Sarkisian serves out his second and final presidential term and Armenia completes its transition to the parliamentary system of government. They will therefore decide who will govern the country for the next four years.
Virtually all of the nine election contenders launched their campaigns on Saturday with indoor presentations of their manifestos that involved speeches by their leaders. The HHK, widely seen as the election favorite thanks to its government levers and financial resources, rallied several hundred members at a sports arena in Yerevan.
Strangely enough, journalists were not allowed to cover the event. They had to content themselves with the transcripts of speeches delivered by Sarkisian and other party figures.
“With all due respect for our political opponents, we, the Republicans, believe that we will win,” declared Sarkisian. “We will win because we believe in the country’s future and the great potential of our people.”
“Rest assured that we will become the most efficient and rapidly developing country in the region,” the president said. He also said he expects his recently reshuffled cabinet headed by Prime Minister Karen Karapetian to ensure such “progress.”
Karapetian reaffirmed his pledges to implement wide-ranging reforms. “We are confident that those changes will be visible and their results tangible,” he told the party faithful.
Sarkisian made clear late last year that Karapetian will continue to serve as prime minister at least until April 2018 if the HHK wins the general elections. But he has still not clarified whether he plans to be become prime minister after the end of his presidency.
Sarkisian’s junior coalition partner, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), also stressed the need for major “changes” in the country as it launched its separate election campaign. “While others are speaking of changes, we are actually effecting changes,” claimed one of its leaders, Aghvan Vartanian.
Dashnaktsutyun is represented in the Armenian government by three ministers in accordance with a power-sharing deal reached with Sarkisian a year ago.It had already been part of the government from 2008-2009 along with two other parties: Gagik Tsarukian’ Prosperous Armenia (BHK) and Artur Baghdasarian’s Armenian Renaissance. Both parties now claim to be in opposition to the government, something which is disputed by some observers as well as more established opposition figures.
One of the HHK’s most vocal election challengers is an alliance that was set up recently by former Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian and former Foreign Ministers Vartan Oskanian and Raffi Hovannisian. The bloc called Ohanian-Raffi-Oskanian held its first campaign rally at a Yerevan cinema.
“We need to tell the people to stop coming to terms with this reality and to stop tolerating injustice and impunity in our country,” said Ohanian, who was sacked in October after holding a key position in the Sarkisian administration for more than eight years.
In its campaign platform, Ohanian's bloc promises, among other things, to increase defense spending by 50 billion drams ($103 million). The figure is equivalent to more than one-fifth of Armenia’s military budget.
Also challenging the HHK’s hold on power is the pro-European Yelk (Way Out) alliance comprising Nikol Pashinian’s Civil Contract and two other parties. The bloc opposes Armenia’s membership in the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) and has vowed to seek an Association Agreement with the European Union in case of coming to power.
“The latest political news in Armenia is that there is a way out of this situation,” Pashinian said at the official launch of Yelk’s campaign on Saturday.
Pashinian and another Yelk leader, Aram Sarkisian, walked through downtown Yerevan together with a dozen young activists earlier in the day, handing out campaign booklets to passersby.
Another major opposition contender is the alliance of former President Levon Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian National Congress (HAK) and Stepan Demirchian’s People’s Party of Armenia (HZhK). The central theme of its campaign is peace with Azerbaijan and Turkey. In an extensive December speech, Ter-Petrosian reaffirmed his belief that a compromise solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is vital for Armenia’s security and prosperity.
“We need to normalize relations with Azerbaijan and resolve the Karabakh conflict,” Levon Zurabian, Ter-Petrosian’s right-hand man, said at the official presentation of the Congress-HZhK alliance’s election manifesto. Zurabian said the alliance specifically supports the so-called Madrid Principles of a Karabakh settlement that were first put forward by U.S., Russian and French mediators in 2007.
The proposed framework accord calls for a phased settlement that would start with Armenian withdrawal from virtually all districts around Karabakh and end with a referendum in which Karabakh’s predominantly Armenian population would determine the disputed territory’s internationally recognized status.