Election season is in full swing. The Central Election Commission (CEC) has certified eight candidates for the February election; the other seven did not pay the required eight million dram ($20,000) fee to appear on the ballot. David Hakobyan, Chairman of the Marxist Party of Armenia criticizes the high fee as a means for the authorities to control the competition and wants a fee proportional to the candidate’s wealth. For the record, Armenia’s average annual salary is 1.45 million dram, making the registration fee comparable to $275,000 in America. The eight that were willing to pay the eight million dram are:
- Incumbent Serzh Sargsyan (Republican Party)
- Raffi Hovannisian (Heritage Party)
- Hrant Bagratyan (Freedom Party)
- Paruyr Hayrikyan (National Self-Determination Union)
- Andreas Ghoukasyan (Director of Radio Hay)
- Aram Haroutyunyan (National Consensus Party)
- Vardan Sedrakyan (architect or “epic studies specialist”)
The official campaign begins on the 21st, and there is a lot of work to do. The CEC still needs to decide whether the portraits of Sargsyan that are up in sites that will be used as voting sites should come down (the answer is yes as it gives unfair preference to a certain candidate, the candidate in power, and may bias the electorate). Some Republicans openly admit that Sargsyan’s victory is a foregone conclusion but quickly add that that the election still is competitive.
The government has received OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) election monitoring team. The OSCE/ODIHR team is the primary international election observing institution. I wrote about the 2012 parliamentary election, including OSCE/ODIHR’s report, in this post. Here is an outline of the current mission and the list of the core team members.
As I stated earlier, this election is likely to be the cleanest ever as Sargsyan has no real opposition. The question is whether the opposition will be able to embarrass Sargsyan by either 1) having a low voter 2) Hovannisian obtaining a large minority of votes, or 3) communicate the lack of competition to international actors. Some of these goals are mutually exclusive, so the opposition will need to be tactful if they want to make it appear that Sargsyan doesn’t have a mandate from the electorate.