President Kocharyan hopes for a supportive
Armenian President Robert Kocharyan, still reeling
from allegations of vote rigging that marred his
recent re-election, has hardly opted for a conventional
way of retaining control of his country's parliament.
Unlike many other post-Soviet leaders, he has
no party of his own and has never tried to establish
one throughout his five-year presidency.
Instead, Kocharyan relies on a wide array of
large and small political groups that stood by
him during the presidential election. Those make
up the majority of the 21 parties and blocs registered
by Armenia's Central Election Commission.
Kocharyan has made it clear that he will try
to make sure they command a comfortable majority
in the next parliament.
Speaking to university students in Yerevan last
week, he said a loyal legislature is essential
for the success of his second five-year term in
"That means we have to have a parliament
with which it will be possible to work, which
will not oppose the president. That means it is
very desirable for me, and I think for the country
as well, to have a parliament where political
forces supporting the president have a substantial
majority," Kocharyan said.
The political opposition in Armenia believes
the only way that can be achieved is for Kocharyan
to manipulate the upcoming elections. Unlike the
divided pro-presidential forces, most of the opposition
is contesting the polls in a single alliance led
by Stepan Demirchyan, the main opposition presidential
candidate. The alliance, called Artarutyun, or
Justice, has set an equally ambitious goal, which
was articulated by Demirchyan during his first
campaign trip to Aragatsotn Province in central
"Our participation is not aimed at getting
a few [parliamentary] mandates," Demirchyan
said. "We are seeking radical changes. To
that end, Justice [Party] should have a majority
in the National Assembly."
Demirchyan says radical changes are needed.
Demirchyan and his opposition allies claim to
have been robbed of victory in the presidential
election held in two rounds on 19 February and
5 March. Their allegations of widespread electoral
fraud were given weight by Western observers,
who concluded that the vote fell short of democratic
Even Armenia's Constitutional Court has urged
the authorities to hold a "referendum of
confidence" on Kocharyan within a year --
a call angrily rejected by Kocharyan. The 48-year-old
leader has admitted there were "numerous"
voting irregularities but insists they did not
affect the outcome of the election.
The disputed election sparked a campaign of street
protests by the Demirchyan-led opposition, which
further heightened political tensions in the country.
Tempers have somewhat calmed in the last two weeks
but could flare up again during and after the
25 May polls.
Armenia's 131-member Azgayin Zhoghov, or National
Assembly, is far less powerful than the president,
who can appoint and sack the government and dissolve
the legislature practically at will. Nonetheless,
the parliament has the authority to unseat ruling
cabinets by a vote of no-confidence and initiate
impeachment proceedings against the head of state
-- hence, Kocharyan's strong desire to prevent
it from falling under opposition control.
Under Armenian law, 75 of the parliament seats
are up for grabs on the party list basis. The
56 other seats will be distributed in single-mandate
constituencies across the country.
Voters will also be asked to vote on 25 May on
a package of amendments to Armenia's Constitution,
which were drafted by Kocharyan. He says the amendments
would curtail his sweeping constitutional powers.
The opposition claims the opposite.
The most influential pro-presidential group is
the Republican Party of Prime Minister Andranik
Markaryan. Its list of candidates also comprises
eight other cabinet members, including powerful
Defense Minister Serge Sargsyan. The Republicans
have the largest faction in the outgoing Armenian
parliament and control many local governments.
Their dominant status is increasingly challenged
by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, another
major party represented in the government. Kocharyan's
chief of staff, Artashes Tumanyan, is among its
top candidates. Also in the running are a dozen
other, smaller, pro-Kocharyan parties, as well
as ostensibly independent candidates linked to
Local analysts agree that Kocharyan's strategy
is to have as many of them elected to parliament
as possible. Some observers predict the abundance
of pro-establishment contenders with often conflicting
interests will plunge the presidential camp into
turmoil and facilitate an opposition victory.
The key question for the opposition Justice bloc
is whether the elections will be free and fair,
something which has rarely been the case in Armenia.
As Demirchyan put it: "Nobody is naive enough
to think that these authorities will not rig the
elections. But that doesn't mean we are unable
to fight. We will fight until we win."
The freedom and fairness of the elections is
also a concern of the United States and Europe,
which harshly criticized Yerevan's handling of
the presidential vote. The parliamentary race,
they say, is a chance for Armenia to reassert
its democratic credentials in the West. The secretary-general
of the Council of Europe, Walter Schwimmer, warned
recently that another fraudulent election would
spell "disaster" for the Caucasus nation's
Not surprisingly, the Council of Europe's Parliamentary
Assembly (PACE), will field a much larger election
monitoring mission in Armenia this month. An advance
team of PACE observers has already visited Yerevan,
receiving government assurances that the vote
will be democratic this time around.
But the head of the delegation, Russell Johnston,
indicated that only time will reveal the sincerity
of Armenian leaders. "I believe you can have
a fair and free election," he said. "But
as they used to say, the proof of the pudding
is in the eating."