Friday, 21 September

Elections among big and little matryoshkas

Matryoshka- 1.set of wooden nesting dolls painted to look like a peasant-woman. 2. A red-cheeked, healthy woman or girl. 
(Russian-Armenian Dictionary, Yerevan, 1982)

I would add that these nesting dolls differ from one another only in size.

On February 19, 2003, the presidential election will be held in Armenia. The campaign seems to be entering the final lap. Who will govern Armenia for the next five years – the acting president Robert Kocharyan, the young candidate Stepan Demirchyan - son of the former boss of the communist party Karen Demirchyan, or the last mayor of Yerevan during the Soviet era, Artashes Geghamyam? It has become clear that the main contest will unfold among these three out of the nine registered candidates. If, of course, nothing out of the ordinary happens. One should not forget that Armenia is the country where on October 27, 1999, the heads of the executive and legislative powers were assassinated during a parliament session.

Who are the three candidates for the presidency?

Stepan Demirchyan is 42. He is the director of MARS CJSC, and the chairman of the People’s Party of Armenia (PPA/HZhK).

Artashes Geghamyan is 53. He worked in the central administration of the Communist Party of Soviet Armenia. Since 1995, he has been a member of the National Assembly. He is the chairman of the National Solidarity party (NS/AM).

Robert Kocharyan is 48. He held various positions in the Komsomol and Communist Party organs in Nagorno Karabakh. From 1992 to 1996, he was the chairman of the State Committee of Defense and prime minister of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic. In 1996 he was elected president of NKR. In 1997 he was appointed prime minister of Armenia. In 1998 he was elected president of the Republic of Armenia.

Judging from the campaign speeches, it can be categorically stated that there is no contest of ideas in this election. Indeed, it’s not going too far to say that these speeches contain no ideas at all. For all the candidates, the priority is our relationship with Russia; the desire to “throw ourselves into the arms of Russia” is so strong at times that it seems, willy-nilly, that Armenia is no longer an independent state but just a region of Russia. Even the well- known former political prisoner Paruyr Hayrikyan, who spent 17 years in prison, has today joined forces with the communists who put him there, and preaches from the same podium. For many, foreign policy issues don’t exist at all -- none of the candidates has addressed the Armenian-Turkish relationship, or has laid out an approach toward the resolution of the Nagorno Karabakh problem. Everybody speaks about corruption. But it remains unclear where within the state the corruption that everybody wants to fight against is. Robert Kocharyan promises to fight against “the economic monopolies”, but those monopolists are in his election headquarters, by his side.

This time, the international organizations are keeping a sharp eye on the election: observers and monitors will follow and evaluate pre-election and election processes. The Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODHIR) of the OSCE has sent 26 long-term observers to Armenia. They are working in Yerevan and in the marzes, monitoring the campaign. The work of the mass media is seen as particularly important. NGOs are measuring the newspapers’ publications millimeter by millimeter and counting the volume of TV time to the second to find out whether there are equal conditions for all the candidates in terms of advertising. At this stage, numerous breaches have already been registered. At the same time, all political forces realize how important fair and transparent elections are. They all attach importance to the evaluations of the observers, who through their conclusions must assess the democracy in our country.

“If there are no violations, there will be a second-round run-off” – this opinion can be heard among the candidates themselves. In addition to the three mentioned above, there are other candidates who are convinced that the people will elect them. But no matter how much Vazgen Manukyan, the leader of the National Democratic Union, persuades himself that the people will follow him, all the same, his train passed by long ago. And he will have to join one of the other candidates in the second round.

The State machinery is working at full steam, employing all means and levers for the reelection of Robert Kocharyan. Of course, this election may be vital for the existing clan system in Armenia. If Kocharyan isn’t reelected, everything will take a 180-degree turn. The people who hold monopolies in the economy will lose almost everything. That’s why some of the oligarchs are engaged in a double game and secretely support one of the two main opposition candidates and sometimes, according to our information, both. On the other hand, Kocharyan and his close circle realize what course the October 27th trial will take if he loses. In the final analysis, Military Prosecutor Gagik Jhangiryan has facts in reserve that, depending on the circustances, may in all likelihood come to light tomorrow.

The Public Television and all the private TV stations are controlled by Kocharyan; they all aligned themselves long ago. Because they understand if they don’t submit themseves to the government, they will share the fate of A1+. And this is the best-case scenario-- there are worse methods of punishment.

In towns and villages, Stepan Demirchyan is being welcomed almost the same way his father was five years ago. He is not a big talker-- during rallies he utters only a few sentences, which works to create a certain image. Karen Demirchyan’s years in office remind people 45 and older of more prosperous times. Stepan Demirchyan looks like his father; in his way of speaking and his behavior, he resembles Karen Demirchyan more and more each day day. His father headed the Communist Party of Armenia in the 1970s and 1980s, and was Kocharyan’s main opponent in the 1998 presidential election. According to the opposition, he won the election, but the results were falsified. In 1999 he was elected speaker of the National Assembly, and in October of that year he was assassinated in the parliament. Stepan was never involved in politics. He runs the MARS factory, which produces computer microcircuits.

In fact, Stepan Demirchyan has inherited his father’s electorate; those who voted for the father will vote for the son. The number of his admirers grows after every campaign rally. No matter how much Stepan Demirchyan states that he doesn’t play on his father’s authority, in reality he does, especially as people in his circle always point it out and use it.

Nobody has ever trusted the sociological polls in Armenia. They have never reflected the real picture. “Every poll has its customer and, therefore, it presents results that are advantageous for the customer”. This is the opinion of a sociologist who conducted such surveys in the past. The sociologists themselves sometime cast doubt on poll results, saying “Armenians say one thing, write another thing, and do a completely different thing”. And on the other hand, the organizations that conduct the polls are not reliable.

Nevertheless, according to the polls, Stepan Demirchyan is in second place, and Artashes Geghamyan is in third. Geghamyan pins his hopes on the dissatisfied sector of society, as is clear from his TV advertisements. And because in there are many people in Armenia living in harsh social conditions, many will vote for Geghamyan. However almost nobody remembers today that Geghamyan supported Kocharyan during the last presidential race. And he did so in order to get a government position. He has negotiated with Kocharyan for a job several times over the last years, but he has never achieved his objective. Many oppostion representatives believe that if Kocharyan and Demirchyan face a runoff election, Geghamyan will start negotiating with Kocharyan for a position, and will join him. But these are just people’s opinions.

Robert Kocharyan made two big mistakes from the very outset. First, he dissolved two very important ministries before the election – the Interior Ministry and the Ministry of National Security, transforming them into agencies. Second, he appointed Minister of Defense Serge Sargissyan as his campaign manager. In this way, the power structures were put to use and were assigned a very important mission. But this was also a signal that Kocharyan doesn’t trust any state structure.

The president’s team doesn’t understand that the columns of jeeps and the abundance of bodyguards has a negative effect on voters. And the semi-literate ministers who accompany candidate Kocharyan work against him. And when he talks about fighting corupption, he has people standing beside him that everybody knows are corrupt. Actually, Kocharyan doesn’t have a team. He is alone in his circle, and if he is not re-elected, there will be no one standing beside him tomorrow, except, as history shows, the opposition press.

Some political scientists believe that Kocharyan will do whatever it takes to win in the first round, but soon will be forced to resign, like LevonTer-Petrossyan before him.

It is hard to predict what will happen on February 19th; as the history of the last six years shows, Armenia is not a country that follows any logical pattern.

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