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Parliamentary elections in Armenia: How to turn 5% into 55%

As election race is nearing completion in Armenia, political parties and blocs running for parliament are doing their best to be in good “political form” by April 1, the Day of Silence on election eve. For some of the nine political forces it will be hard to overcome the threshold to the parliament.

Suspense is growing due to the events that may follow the voting day, April 2, rather than the voting results of the favorites and outsiders of the elections in Armenia. So far, only one of the political forces, Ohanyan-Raffi-Oskanian (ORO) bloc, has made it clear that for it everything will just start on the upcoming Sunday. Since the first day of its activity, the bloc has been the key target for the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (RPA). ORO leaders sent a clear message that together with their supporters they may took to the streets on April 3 and on the following days, if they fail to enter the parliament due to vote fraud by the incumbent authorities.

ORO has not just sent a clear message to RPA that it is inclined to “radical” methods of regaining its votes in case of vote fraud. The bloc of the three former ministers initiated a “coalition challenge” to the authorities offering all the opposition forces to unite after elections in a “government of national accord.” The given idea failed, since no opposition force supported it. However, RPA is not much concerned about the activity of ORO, perhaps only for the supposed post-election period when people may take to the streets again.

The authorities are trying to be proactive, which became evident in the story with illegal import of Igla missile system in Armenia from Georgia. The police detained Samvel Babayan, the former defense minister of Nagorno-Karabakh, “grey cardinal” of ORO bloc, over the above case of illegal arms turnover. Babayan’s detention on March 22 and arrest for two months show how confident the authorities are in their power. Otherwise, ORO leaders would not miss this good chance to small the authorities of political repressions and lead the people to the streets. Nobody took to the streets, just some obscure statements that one more “political prisoner” appeared in Armenia were made. In fact, the bloc of former ministers lost its “chess game” scarcely has it started it.

Noteworthy that the major chess player (President Serzh Sargsyan chairs the Chess Federation of Armenia) was on a visit to Arab Emirates on the day Babayan was detained. This openly manifested how confident the top leadership is in its capacity to keep the situation under control.

Back to the parliamentary elections in Armenia. The author of this article talked to informed Armenian experts and officials close to the ruling party and figured out the following plans of the authorities in the short-term outlook. Two scenarios of voting results RPA planned earlier gave way to one “strategic line.” The minimum task is to get 50% plus one vote either independently or by winning over the “junior partner” of the still undissolved coalition (ARFD, Dashnaktsutyun Party). To be more precise, it is Plan B in case the maximum plan fails due to any post-election processes. RPA top leadership gave strict charges – a confident victory not just 50%+. The ruling party strategists interpret it as 55% and more.

Don’t be misled by the previous statements by some leading persons inside the authorities that no political force in Armenia, including RPA, can get more than 45%-46% independently. President of Armenia, Chairman of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia set the 55%+ goal in autumn of 2016 when a new government was formed in the country with appointment of Karen Karapetyan as prime minister. The new government was formed with a view to April 2 elections and the processes that will follow it.

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This issue has a façade that was overlooked by Armenian analysts. The ruling power in Armenia will be feeling at least uncomfortable when the leaderships of all Armenia’s neighbors, including its two outspoken enemies, dominated over their internal political rivals. Only one political force that dominates the others on the domestic political field can assert Armenia’s national interests – recognition of Armenian Genocide by Turkey and settlement of Karabakh conflict.

Everyone understands that the true rating of RPA that is about 5% cannot be increased to 55% without full application of the notorious administrative resources and a good proportion of well-thought vote fraud. They stake not only on the administrative resources and manipulations on the voting day, but also on well tested (at the local level) preferential voting. Party bosses of the Republics once openly said they will get 45%-46% on Party Lists and the remaining through preferential voting.

What could spoil RPA’s “confident victory” plans are a strong and united opposition ready for any configurations to overthrow the ruling party. Meantime, at the current elections the opposition in Armenia is even more fragmented than it was at the previous elections.

A question arises as to why shouldn’t RPA have appetites for “maximum goals” given inert efforts of ORO bloc, Tsarukyan bloc, first president Levon Ter-Petrosyan’s team and other “remotely anti-governmental” forces. Although these elections are called “landmark,” no force outside RPA have managed to present any revolutionary program from the political and ideological point of view, just openly populist theses.

The Armenian public has not witnessed any conditional “war of minds” between the ruling and opposition parties. Nor has it seen any documentary proofs of the corrupt high-ranking officials, their luxurious life and semi-criminal order in the country.

A more or less effective opposition would easily overthrow the authorities in a country having this disastrous level of migration, depopulation, deficit of social justice. This will work in any country but Armenia, where the authorities use “Karabakh” as their major argument for reproduction without even asserting the second Armenian republic’s right to exist.

A week ahead of elections, the potential voting result is foreseen. RPA gets 55% or close to it, starts weighing expediency of restoring the coalition agreement with ARFD that has stable number of voters – about 5% - sufficient to overcome the threshold.

The second power in the parliament will be Tsarukyan bloc. Its leader, a successful businessman and obscure politician, suits the authorities as leader of the second large force in the parliament after RPA. The post-election rating of the bloc will be about 25%.

Yelq (Way out) alliance has all chances to get the necessary 7% of the remaining 15%. This political union is campaigning relatively actively and is at the stage of forming its own camp of supporters. They suit RPA as a constructive pro-western faction in the next parliament. Unlike Free Democrats, they have balanced their foreign policy priorities, abandoned aggressive anti-Russian stance and do not oppose the Russian-led integration unions.

The rest three parties and two blocs, including ORO, will hardly manage to enter the parliament. Neither ORO nor Armenian National Congress, the bloc of the first president of Armenia Levon Ter-Petrosyan, have managed to persuade Armenian voters that they are able to rule the country or even stay besides those in power.

Here is the palette of political forces participating in the “landmark” elections. There is still a paradoxical situation when everyone “hates” the ruling party, but no one manages to turn that hatred into political capital and overthrow RPA. The authorities successfully use inefficient opposition and no breakthrough in the political reality in Armenia is anticipated by April 2, unless there is a force-majeur, indeed.

Vyacheslav Mikhaylov for EADaily

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