Election processes in Armenia like in many other post-Soviet countries are not smooth. Reports on violence, protest actions and violations are usual thing. What differs the upcoming (April 2) parliamentary elections in Armenia from previous ones is the troubled period of transition to parliamentary system of government from current semi-presidential one amid high degree of social and economic tension.
The opposition bloc Oskanian-Raffi-Ohanyan (ORO) set up by three former ministers and their supporters is one of the forces running for parliament. This alliance is the creature of ex-defense minister Seyran Ohanyan and two former ministers of foreign affairs Vartan Oskanian and Raffi Hovannisian. Led by experienced politicians, ORO opposition bloc even more intrigues the election campaign in Armenia. Seyran Ohanyan ranks the first on the bloc’s list. Yet a year ago, as defense minister, Ohanyan was considered one of the closest allies of President Serzh Sargsyan. With resignation of Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamyan and Cabinet reshuffles, Ohanyan decided to launch a political campaign as an opposition leader and outspoken critic of the authorities.
EADaily has asked Seyran Ohanyan to answer questions on both the election campaign, security and foreign-policy issues in Armenia.
Mr. Ohanyan, some people say discrepancies with the president were behind your sudden shift to the opposition camp, while others say it was a secret deal with him. What are the true reasons and goals of your current activity?
None of the above. I had no conflict with the president, but it took me long enough to make such a decision, since I could see from inside and understand that old methods of governing the country no longer work. The country is stuck in stagnation, new decisions and new people are needed to make drastic change in public. That is why I made such drastic shift and entered the political competition.
The election race in Armenia was launched two weeks ago. What do you think of the situation in political competition in the country and the campaign in general? Do you trust in the promises of the authorities to conduct a fair voting?
Generally, the political competition is normal in the country, though sometimes the authorities get too emotional. Public discontent is very high in the nation.
We come across red tape and various administrative hindrances at every turn. It is hard to say if the authorities will resort to more serious violations. I do not know. As for their promises to hold fair election, suffice it to say that the overwhelming majority of people do not trust their promises. As for us, the final assessment can be given during the voting.
What caused the incidents involving representatives of the ruling party and ORO bloc supporters in Jrarat village, Armavir region, Armenia?
It is continuation of the first part of your question: the authorities understand that we are one of their serious rivals and pay “special attention” to our alliance. Almost all political forces running for parliament have realized that fact already.
Are ORO candidates capable of competing with pro-governmental candidates having high ratings, given their financial resources?
Well, financial capacities of the pro-governmental candidates are unlimited, but there is a very high public discontent and people demand changes and lean to us, which is a kind of compensation for us.
Mr. Ohanyan, members of Sasna Tsrer (Daredevils of Sassoun) armed group and Karabakh War veteran Zhirayr Sefilyan disseminated a statement a few days ago over the known incidents in Armavir region. They supported the actions of your bloc. What is your assessment of that statement by the group that seized a police compound in Yerevan last year? Would you comment their actions those troubled days?
Many political and public groups have expressed their support to us during our election campaign. We are grateful to them, of course. As for the seizure of the police compound, such actions cannot be supported, indeed. Another matter that people responded extremely negatively to the actions of the authorities, while they supported the actions of the group. It is a fact. This means that the legitimacy level of the authorities is extremely low, which is yet more proof that the country needs serious changes in all fields. If no changes happen, the situation may have irreversible consequences. In this light, it is very important that these changes happen legally, through political elections.
Do you anticipate your alliance with Vartan Oskanian and Raffi Hovannisian to win? What unites you? How do you plan your roles in the election campaign?
We anticipate a serious result and I’d like to say that there will be no absolute winner and the future government will be coalition. About the aspects that unite us, first, all of us are experienced politicians and statesmen. Working on our positions for years we have learned from inside all the pros and cons of our state government.
You are a military man. Do you think it was the right decision to appoint a civilian as defense minister of a country that is in the state of war?
Due to the army reform, we have a system when a civilian too can head the defense department. Army units are led by experienced career officers who can successfully settle the tasks set to them.
Prime Minister of Armenia Karen Karapetyan made a scandalous statement a few days ago saying that military hardware was not used properly during the military actions last April due to poor quality of fuel. The government charged inspecting the retail fuel market in Armenia. During the military actions, you were the defense minister of Armenia. Were there any failures of military hardware due to poor quality of fuel purchased for army needs. Why do you think they have raised this issue now, during the election campaign? Is it an attempt to press you?
A defense ministry representative has already answered this question saying that Karen Karapetyan’s information does not correspond to reality. Furthermore, after that statement Karapetyan said he did not mean last year’s April events. Afterwards, representatives of the defense department said information on purchase of low quality fuel does not correspond to reality through December 2016. I have nothing to add. I have got an impression that it was a dispute between various governmental departments and bears no relation to me.
In my opinion, low quality fuel in Armenia cannot be classified into military and public purposes, since army has always purchased fuel from specific companies that sell the same fuel to both defense ministry and other state and public organizations. If there are any complaints, they should be addressed to specific companies.
Will Armenia gain from transition to the parliamentary system of government?
I think no matter what system of government is applied in the country: parliamentary or presidential one. Many countries with both parliamentary and presidential systems of government live and develop successfully. Quite on the contrary, many countries both with parliamentary and presidential systems of government experience stagnation.
Evaluate the current security level of Armenia using a 10-point system?
I think Armenia’s security is at a rather high level and our allied, strategic relations with Russia have a great importance for stabilization in the region.
What do you think of the current situation in the Karabakh conflict zone? What is your mid-term forecast for possible developments?
I’d characterize the current situation in the Karabakh conflict zone as very fragile, since Azerbaijan’s behavior cannot be called predictable or constructive. Therefore, I can make no mid-term forecast.
What is your vision of Armenia’s foreign policy, particularly, on Nagorno-Karabakh settlement?
I think, there should be neither winners nor losers in this conflict. Durable peace between the two neighbor-peoples requires a concession-based settlement so that no party feels itself a winner or a loser. To that end, it is necessary to development additional resource of people’s diplomacy between the countries. Russia can come out as a platform for intensive dialogue, though the current OSCE platform is the optimal and the most realistic one for full and final settlement of the conflict.
And the last question… Mr. Ohanyan, it is widely rumored in the press that your bloc plans protest actions after April 2 elections. What would you say about these rumors?
It is no secret that every time elections in Armenia, no matter it is parliamentary or presidential ones, prompt post-election protests. People do not trust either the procedures of voting or in assessment. We must do our best to avoid this, otherwise it will create instability in our country. However, this depends not only on us and other political forces. It depends on the authorities, first and foremost. If the level of fraud at the elections is very high, the public will respond negatively, irrespectively of our opinion or decisions.