Monthly Archives: December 2012

Slight Update on the Presidential Election Intrigue

To expand and clarify a point I made in my previous post: the aim of the opposition is to delegitimize the election, and their hope is to make it look like a sham through lack of real opposition and low voter turnout.

It’s clear to all that there is no real opposition, but that doesn’t mean there is no opposition. There are currently 10 candidates, including Freedom party leader Hrant Bagratyan, and likely more will come. None of these candidates will garner many votes, likely topping out at 1-2%, but their mere presence helps legitimize the election. Mere appearance of opposition is beneficial to the incumbent and may be enough to combat the ANC’s accusations. How many (if any) of the candidates are being encouraged to run by the pro-Sargsyan camp is unknown.

It’s also impossible to know how much lower the voter turnout will be until February. There is evidence that a percentage of Prosperous Armenia supporters won’t vote, but it’s not clear how large that number will actually be.

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The ANC Boycotts the Election, and how the Intrigue Around the Election is more Interesting than the Election Itself.

As mentioned earlier, the Prosperous Armenia party decided to step out of the election. They’ve now been followed by the ARF-D and the Levon Ter-Petrosyan’s Armenian National Congress (ANC). With these parties standing by the sidelines, the only political parties with any name recognition standing up in opposition to the Republicans are the Heritage party and Freedom party. Neither party has a chance, but at least Heritage’s Raffi Hovannisian can act as a lightning rod for the angry opposition. Thus, my prediction for the election is the incumbent Serzh Sarsgyan with 75% of the vote, Raffi Hovannisian with 20% and the rest of the candidates playing their “clown roles” getting 5%. There are currently only three people that have submitted the paperwork for candidacy, none of which is a recognized name. The other candidates have until 4 January 2013.

The more interesting question is what will be the election turnout. Either through active protest or passive submission, one political analyst feels that Armenians have no interest in the election because they know it won’t change the regime. This assumes that many Armenians vote thinking their vote has the power to change things and isn’t simply something to sell for a 10,000 dram bribe. However, if the outcome is guaranteed, the major parties may not engage in any bribery. Will Armenians engage in the election for its own sake or to show their support of their preferred candidate even when their vote has no democratic power or financial value?

Maybe to promote a low turnout, or at least change the narrative of a low turnout to active resistance rather than passivity, the ANC is boycotting the election entirely. In a public statement, the ANC declared “[a]fter rigging the 2008 presidential election and drowning the popular protest against election frauds in blood, the Serzh Sargsyan regime has for five years been doing its utmost to eliminate every possibility of democratic and competitive elections.” This boycott removes the possibility of the ANC supporting its constituent Freedom party’s Chairman, Hrant Bagratyan, who is likely to run. This boycott is being done to strip legitimacy from the ruling Republican party by illuminatingthe predetermined outcome of the election. Another political analyst describes it as taking away the appearance of a fair election, which the West demands on the government.

We will have to wait to see whether this delegitimizing strategy will work or not. Political big-shot Vazgen Manukian puts the blame for the current foregone electoral conclusion on both the government and the opposition. This election will likely be the cleanest ever in Armenia because of the predetermined outcome. If a score of NGOs all approve of the procedure of the election, it’s more difficult for the ANC to delegitimize the whole thing because of the (lack of) substance of the election. Plus, unless the people agree with the ANC that the government has created an unfair system, they are likely to view the ANC as trying to save face from a certain crushing defeat in the polls. The ultimate test could come down to the voter turnout for the election. With this year’s Parliamentary election turnout of 62.35%, it will be easy to see if there is a significant drop in turnout in February. Whether to read that drop as active disagreement with the government or mere passivity will undoubtedly remain a point of disagreement for a while.

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Imagine Armenia: A Presentation by Repatriated Armenians in Los Angeles on the 28th

A few repats are holding an event called Imagine Armenia. The core idea of the event is “What does Armenia mean to you?” Hopefully people will think that Armenia is a place and a people to engage as partners and not merely as the “the old country” or a post-soviet plutocracy. To get a good dose of the reality of living in Armenia—and see how you can engage with the real Armenia—you should come to the event in Los Angeles on the 28th at 7pm at 3245 Casita Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90039.

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From agriculture to emigration to women’s rights: life in an Armenian village

Here is a short article that is somehow able to perfectly show the struggles of living in an Armenian village. The article’s meandering subject matter matches perfectly the type of honest discussion and complaints you’d get from talking to one of the villagers over a glass of oghi.

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Review of Mariam Gevorgyan’s Struggle for Justice

The Society Without Violence NGO has put out a thorough review of Gevorgyan’s story from initial abuse to the final court verdict. It mentions some passing words from the defendant’s family that imply that the family called in favors to subvert the court case. There is no real evidence of that, but I would not be surprised if that happened.

In the mean time, the Institute of War and Peace Reporting recently wrote on the current status of the draft domestic violence law. A draft bill is out for public comment, but the progress is still quite slow.

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Presidential Election was Already Determined, Now not even an Entertaining Race

It was already almost certain that the current President would win reelection in February. Now there won’t even be a realistic challenge. The head of Prosperous Armenia party (PAP), Gagik Tsarukyan, announced that he wasn’t running and that PAP won’t endorse any candidate. Without the second largest party promoting a candidate, only the opposition—which won 7% of the popular vote in May—is running a candidate.

On the plus side, since the outcome is already determined, it’s possible that this will be the cleanest and most proper election ever.


Update: Unsurprisingly, it’s believed that Tsarukyan and Sargsyan struck a deal for PAP to step out of the election. Tert is reporting that they made a deal to develop a new coalition and replace Yerevan’s current mayor with someone a little more friendly.

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Hetq Article on Developing Public Trust in the Government

As I mentioned in the Pause in the Posting post, I have been working on a response to the Urgent Call for electoral reforms. I finished the response and it’s been published in Hetq. I wrote the response because I felt the NGOs critique of the electoral system was too narrow and focused on the wrong issue. Yes there are many election irregularities, but those irregularities aren’t large enough to change the election results. Yet, public trust in the government is around 12-13%. I argue that the public doesn’t trust the government because it doesn’t trust the institutions of the government. Make the institutions trustworthy, especially vis-a-vis elections, and people will trust the government.

Check out the article here.

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Happy Human Rights Day

Today, December 10th, is international Human Rights Day! The UN General Assembly passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948. The Universal Declaration was the first international statement declaring that every single human being has rights and listing those core rights.

The idea of human rights requires constant struggle. As time progresses, societies realize new rights, new spheres of life where the government has limited legitimacy to intrude. At each step, the people demand more respect from their government and the government will resist the loss of power. In the beginning, human rights demanded that the government merely not intrude on the life of its citizens unjustly such as through arbitrary arrest. Over time, societies realized that their governments were not a discrete agent but a representative for the people and thus had obligations to the people such as providing education or ensuring the people can feed themselves. These demands for greater respect and responsiveness will only continue, even if the path backtracks at time.

Today is a good day to remember what you have and be grateful for it. Whether you live in a human rights paradise or in a dictatorship that doesn’t respect the basic freedoms of speech and religion or freedom from fear and want, enjoy what you have. And, after that momentary reflection, reflect on those rights that are not respected, in other societies and your own, and how you can continue the struggle.


Every Human Has Rights

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Legal Closure but no Solace

The trial against Mariam Gevorgyan’s abuser has come to an end. Gevorgyan was abused by her husband and mother-in-law before escaping and suing them in court. The husband was protected as part of the blanket amnesty by the President making the mother-in-law the only perpetrator Gevorgyan could go after in court. That case ended recently with a sentence of four years for the mother-in-law. Unfortunately, the President’s amnesty commutes the sentence down to one year.

Gevorgyan’s case was one of the first domestic violence cases where the victim fought for justice all the way through the court system and “won.” Even with her hollow victory, her case is the first of what will be many. When the domestic violence law is finished next year, undoubtedly more cases will be brought as victims will have more legal tools available to them.

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Pause in the Posting

Hello Readers,

I apologize for the lack of updates. I’m currently doing a lot of moving and will finally be settled down on Wednesday. In the mean time, please read an Urgent Call for Election Law reform drafted by a number of NGOs including the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly Vanadzor Office and the Transparency International Anti-corruption Center. I like the content of the reforms the NGOs suggest, but I think they’re missing the bigger issue; even with the suggested reforms, elections in Armenia will still not be viewed as legitimate or “free and fair.” More to come in the next post.

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