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Armenian elections 2017: suspense is growing

Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan. Photo: president.am

Most of analysts say they already know the outcome of the Apr 2 parliamentary elections in Armenia. By having reformatted Armenia from a semi-presidential to a parliamentary republic, the ruling Republican Party has guaranteed its reproduction for many years to come. It has adjusted the constitution to its interests and has enough human resources for registering an impressive victory on Apr 2. Since the last autumn, the Republicans have got rid of all of their odious comrades. Their ally, Dashnaktsutyun, is running on its own but there are no doubts that the alliance will be prolonged.

Still despite this certainly, we may expect some kind of suspense here. Dismissed Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamyan raised no stink when leaving the Republican Party but is certainly hurt, just like dismissed Defense Minister Seyran Ohanyan. Both are disappointed with the ruling regime and are firmly resolved to play their own games.

Abrahamyan is much more experienced in this sphere. He was the chief of the Republicans’ electoral staff during the last presidential and parliamentary elections and is well aware how to use administrative resources.

But now he is not with the Republicans and this has given some suspense to the story.

There are lots of opinions why former comrades, Serzh Sargsyan and Hovik Abrahamyan, have decided to split at this crucial moment. Some internal sources say that Sargsyan has promised to nominate Abrahamyan for presidency in 2018. At that moment, the President will no longer be a weighty force in Armenia. Plan B for Abrahamyan is to become Speaker of the Parliament as a result of the April elections.

Either Sargsyan has changed his mind or somebody has advised him to do it but the fact is that Abrahamyan is longer in the game. In Ararat region, he is still strong due to his relatives but they too are losing ground.

After all, this is not the first time Sargsyan and his team are breaking their promises. In Abrahamyan’s case, the risk was high but Sargsyan’s wish to have a younger and cleaner team prevailed.

In the meantime, Ohanyan has already consolidated some forces. His allies are also ex-s: Vartan Oskanian, Foreign Minister under Robert Kocharyan, and Viktor Dallakyan, former deputy head of Sargsyan’s administration.

If Abrahamyan joins the bloc, it will have serious chances to overcome the 7% barrier. But the Republicans have insured themselves against this by casting a lot of dirt at the former Premier. Their key charge is that he is thriving while most of the Armenians are poor. With such a reputation Abrahamyan can hardly be a welcome guest in the Ohanyan-Oskanyan-Dallakyan alliance. And those three too are not very popular among the Armenians as for many years they lived comfortably under the ruling regime.

One more surprising moment can be expected from the other flank of the opposition. In Feb 2015, the people already saw what kind of an “oppositionist” businessman Gagik Tsarukyan is. Two years ago, the regime forced him to promise to go out of the politics. But it seems that Tsarukyan is also prone to breaking his promises. So, now we should expect him back in the game.

Some experts say it might be Sargsyan’s plan to bring Tsarukyan back but a few days ago, the president said that he did not welcome the businessman’s comeback.

Sargsyan’s comment was the best proof of his complicity to it as you can welcome or not welcome only a person you control. The only question here is why the president wants Tsarukyan back.

The answer is obvious: this is a deceptive maneuver. The Republicans will not be able to triumph if they run alone – for their rating is not enough for them to gain a decisive majority in the parliament.

Their allies, the Dashnaks, can give them no more than 5%. Their own level is 45-50%. If they try to overstate figures to match New Russia’s 55% result, they may face street protests.

The only source that can give the coalition more votes is the Gagik Tsarukyan bloc or, more specifically, the People’s Party. In the best-case scenario, the Republicans, together with the Dashnaktsutyun and Prosperous Armenia, may get as many as 60% of the seats, which means that next year, they will be able to push their own presidential candidate (according to Armenia’s constitution, in case of a run-off election, the president shall be elected by 3/5 of the parliament).

The Republicans are strong in Kotayk region, while Dashnaktsutyun has offices all over the Armenian Diaspora.

The tactical goals of the Republicans are known: the Bloc of Renegades – Ohanyan-Oskanyan-Dallakyan – must not be allowed to get more than 7% of the votes and to become the Republicans’ rivals in the parliament.

On the other hand, the Republicans may need some pluralism in the next parliament. The presence of the Yelk bloc there will help them to be good with the West and to keep Russia on alert. The Russians must not forget that even though in Armenia pro-Western forces are not as strong as the pro-Russian camp is, they are gaining foothold and may be hard to neutralize.

In order to keep them in check, the rulers will need more loans, transfers and investments from Russia. A few loud-mouthed oppositionists in the parliament may even benefit them – even if they stand up against the Eurasian Economic Union and the Collective Security Treaty Organization. For the Republicans, it is better to have a few protesters letting off steam in the parliament than a radical crowd storming in the streets.

One more important factor is that many of the ex-s and Karabakh war veterans have not yet decided who to be with. Now that the Ohanyan-Oskanyan-Dallakyan alliance is new, they are hesitant but should it enter the parliament, they may readily join it.

Here the rulers should keep in mind one alarming nuance: Ohanyan has lots of supporters and he is offended. So, he can be a big headache for the Republicans. Among his voters are not only veterans but also some of the acting generals. For many of them the replacement of Ohanyan by the president’s namesake, Vigen Sargsyan, was not pleasant news. Unlike battle-hardened Ohanyan, Sargsyan is a civilian and a stranger to the military system.

Thus, the Armenian elections 2017 are expected to be the most interesting ballot so far. This time, we can expect some new electoral practices, which means that even if we see no surprises, we may well witness a fierce battle for parliamentary seats.

Vyacheslav Mikhayklov, specially for EADaily

Permalink: eadaily.com/en/news/2017/01/30/armenian-elections-2017-suspense-is-growing
Published on January 30th, 2017 10:59 AM
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