The Constitutional Court and its Chairman, Gagik Harutiunyan, remain at the center of attention in Armenia. On March 24, The Constitutional Court of Armenia dismissed a suit filed by ex-presidential contender (and leader of the National Unity Party) Artashes Gegamyan questioning the outcome of the first round of presidential election, which took place on February 19, 2003. This dismissal, however, has not diminished society’s interest in Harutunyan’s potential role.
Stepan Demirchyan, too, has appealed to the Constitutional Court questioning the outcome of the second round of the presidential election, which took place on March 5, 2003.According to Victor Dallakyan, a member of parliament and Demirchyan’s representative in the Constitutional Court, the application they filed is so well grounded that it is difficult to imagine that the Court could dismiss it. “We will try to prove in the Constitutional Court that from the beginning a system was put in action at the state level that was aimed at conducting an unlawful election”, says Dallakyan.
Demirchyan’s team is preparing to present to the court ballot-papers marked for Kocharyan that were circulated before the election. “We have numerous instances of commission chairmen and members signing written requests on behalf of the opposition members of the commissions, stating that they were resigning from the commissions, or illegally removing opposition representatives from the commissions, so only Kocharyan supporters remained on the commissions. A few minutes before closing the polling stations, policemen intervened and turned out opposition proxies. There were polling stations where 90-98% of the voters participated in the vote and 90% of them voted for Kocharyan. When we carried out a time study, it showed that in these polling stations it took each voter just 17 seconds to cast his or her vote. Thus, a state system was organized that secured the conducting of illegal election”, says Dallakyan.
Dallakyan says that the Chairman of the Constitutional Court, Gagik Harutiunyan, simply cannot ignore the existence of such overwhelming evidence. Dallakyan believes that the members of the Constitutional Court have an opportunity to go down in history. “Our arguments are invulnerable, and these facts are to be interpreted by the nine members of the Constitutional Court. Five votes are enough for Armenia to follow the path of democracy”, Dallakyan said in a March 27 interview with the Haykakan Zhamanak daily.
Aram Karapetyan, a presidential candidate, is more pessimistic: “A month ago, speaking about Artashes Geghamyan’s suit, I predicted it would be dismissed. In this case, too, I am convinced that Stepan Demirchyan’s suit will be dismissed, notwithstanding that there are well-grounded arguments for declaring the results of the election invalid. Simply, there is no instance in Armenian history when the Constitutional Court decided against the executive power.”
Another presidential candidate, Social Democratic Party leader Aram G. Sargissyan, asked the people gathered for the March 28 opposition rally in Yerevan not to lose hope and “to believe that the Constitutional Court will find the strength to pass a legal and just verdict.” Vazgen Manukyan, a presidential candidate and the leader of the National Democratic Union, who ran for president in 1996 presidential election and appealed to the Constitutional Court challenging the election results, said “I appealed to the Constitutional Court in 1996 without any hope, and now I consider it necessary that the opposition file suit. And now there is more hope that the Constitutional Court may decide positively, because there is European public opinion that the Constitutional Court must take into consideration. The Constitutional Court now is not as attached to the government as it was under Levon Ter-Petrossian. I do not assert that the Constitutional Court will decide in favor of the applicant, but the likelihood is not nil.”
The united opposition forces led by Stepan Demirchyan believe it is possible that the Constitutional Court will invalidate the election results. Chairman Gagik Harutiunyan is close to one wing of the opposition. For some opposition politicians, this is grounds for hope. However, many other politicians are convinced that Harutiunyan will never do any such thing. A representative of the former Communist nomenclature, he is very cautious and always “looks before he leaps”. At the same time though, he also grasps the present political situation and the extreme weakness of the president. It can’t be ruled out that this official will find himself at the center of internal political events and play a decisive role at this stage. The Constitutional Court found itself in a similar situation after the 1996 presidential election. The power structures supported Ter-Petrossian then, and did not let him relinquish his power.
In 1996, the Court dismissed the suit filed by presidential candidate Vazgen Manukyan challenging the election results. However, two years later, Ter-Petrossian was forced to resign. Many politicians and political analysts connect his resignation to the 1996 election. He lacked legitimacy and thus he became a hostage of his circle. Today some politicians and analysts draw a parallel between these two elections and confidently say that Kocharyan’s regime will have a similar end. He too is a hostage in the grip of the circle that rigged the vote. Furthermore, the internal political situation in the country resembles the aftermath of the 1998 presidential election.
Defense Minister Vazgen Sargissyan, the most influential politician in Armenia, supported Robert Kocharyan in 1998 and prevented Karen Demirchyan from becoming president. But after a short period of time, the same minister of defense built a coalition with Karen Demirchyan and “took” the majority in parliament. Many people realized that these two political leaders were attempting to take power from Kocharyan by legal means. If it hadn’t been for the terrorist act of October 27, 1999, when Speaker of the Parliament Karen Demirchyan and Prime Minister Vazgen Sargissyan were assassinated, Robert Kocharyan would not have remained in power. In the recent election, Defense Minister Serge Sargissyan supported Kocharyan and, as his campaign manager, made him president. Now Sarkissyan has joined the Republican party of Prime Minister Andranik Margaryan and is trying to decide the fate of the majority in parliament. Naturally, the president is opposed to any such payback, and will do anything to prevent it.
President Kocharyan and Defense Minister Sargissyan say that they have no dispute with each other. All the same, it is clear by now that tensions exist, and that they will deepen concomitant to the approaching parliamentary elections. Today Kocharyan is forced to defend himself on two fronts. Over the years, he has never been able to build his own team or political force behind him. The Serge Sargissyan-Republican Party tandem feeds many people’s speculations. For many businessmen and politicians, taking any definite steps could be suicidal. Serge Sargissyan, who has headed the power structures for ten years now, knows a lot. He possesses extensive information that can at any time slip into the newspapers he controls.
It is also significant that Serge Sargissyan has so far has been silent about the arrest of Vazgen Sargissyan’s brother Armen. It seems that he is trying to remain aloof from the story and not to get bound up in this arrest. In any case, it is hard to predict what will happen in internal politics in the near future. The Republican Party, which invested all its resources to support Kocharyan, is in a panic today. For Republican Prime Minister Andranik Margaryan, it is already clear that Kocharyan’s prime minister will be the Dashnaktsutiun representative, Artashes Tumanyan. And the Dashnaktsutiun party has serious problems with former Minister of Internal Affairs and National Security Serge Sargissyan. It was through their efforts during the second round of the presidential election that the minister of defense, who was managing Kocharyan’s election campaign, was pushed aside, and that all of Kocharyan’s failures during the election were ascribed to him.
On the other hand, Kocharyan has no time right now to take decisive steps to somehow restore his prestige. But time is working against him like never before, as his circle insists that these steps must be taken.
One such move being talked about is to dismiss several ministers who use their offices only to improve their private businesses and who have become symbols of corruption in the eyes of the people. Another step that is being suggested to Kocharyan is to deprive some businesses of monopolies. As strange as it may sound, Kocharyan is also advised to reopen the A1+ TV Station. However, those who give such advice are don’t believe that he can follow it. He is held hostage by his circle and he lacks his own team of supporters. Again and again, he is forced to deal with everything and speak about everything on his own. Even his prosecutor general didn’t understand that it was his responsibility to speak about “disclosing” Tigran Naghdalyan’s assassination. Today Kocharyan has again put into circulation the tales about creating 40,000 new jobs, which only makes people laugh. President Kocharyan has only one more job left to do - be his own press secretary.