Armenia's California Dream
By Emil Sanamyan
His speeches are filled with platitudes and contradictions. Rather than announcing plans, he is asking the crowd: What do you want to do? Stay for an hour or longer? He says he will stand and wait until the "outgoing" President Sargsyan comes and "recognizes the peoples' victory." The next day, however, he walks to the president's office for a closed-door meeting with the incumbent.
"Many consider Hovannisian too volatile and impulsive to be president," says Asbed Bedrossian, founder and publisher of the Los Angeles-based "Groong" Armenian News Network and a longtime watcher of Armenian politics. "He seems to have problems calculating a few steps down the line."
Still, with all his shortcomings, Hovannisian today is seen by many as the country's best hope for change, if not as president, then as part of a governing coalition. A number of government figures, including the influential parliament speaker, have said that a coalition with Hovannisian is possible as long as he recognizes the official results. (Armenia does have some experience of coalitions, but for the most part this meant government's co-optation of the opposition.)
The very fact that Hovannisian and Sargsyan met and shook hands is a first in Armenia's post-electoral political world. A decent rapport between Sargsyan and Hovannisian may be an indication that there will be no violent incidents this time around. The police have been unusually accommodating to protesters. For now, Hovannisian plans to hold more protests and file an appeal with the Constitutional Court to try to annul some or all of the election results; at the same time, he hasn't dismissed a possible coalition with Sargsyan. Hovannisian has already made Armenian electoral history with his unprecedented campaign. The coming weeks and months will show whether the American-Armenian political contender is able to convert his electoral popularity into real-world gains for his constituents.