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.