Yesterday, Raffi had called on students to walk out of school and that’s what they did. I sadly couldn’t attend the protest, but I was one of the 1600 people watching on the live stream. I’m not the only one who couldn’t attend the protest as education directors told students that they’d face negative consequences, with the possibility of expulsion, if they attended the rally. If fear wasn’t enough, supposedly the police blocked the doors to the medical university, forcing students to jump the side fence to get out and attend the rally. Pictures of the students jumping the fence are all over facebook. [Addition: supposed photo of jumping and a video of the protest]. This minor escalation of force by the police isn’t enough to start fears of another March 1 event, but Raffi still declared yesterday that he’d sacrifice his life to prevent bloodshed. Hopefully the situation never develops where he has to follow through with his promise.
Yesterday was also an important day because it was the first day of the new session of the National Assembly. Unsurprisingly, the National Assembly was totally consumed with the election. Oppositional MPs are pushing for an extraordinary sitting to resolve the election, with Republicans wanting to get past the issue.
Yesterday should also be important because that is when the CEC announced the official results. But, as everyone already knew they were simply going to reiterate the preliminary results, nothing interesting was said. They did reject Raffi’s call for the disqualification of Sargsyan and, more importantly, stated that there were only 10 applications for vote recounts and that those recounts could not change the overall result.
One open question is what Prosperous Armenia is going to do. They’ve been vague with their empty “pledge to stand by the people.” Prosperous, a party full of businessmen and a former coalition partner with the Republican Party, doesn’t want to paint itself as a bunch of oppositionists. And, it’s leaders definitely don’t want to be seen as following Raffi. In comparison, considering ARF-D and ANCs near-irrelevance, they’re quite happy to join with Raffi. Vartan Oskanian (the one being investigated by the NSS, an investigation possibly started to ensure Oskanian doesn’t run for president), a member of Prosperous Armenia, met with OSCE, likely to help them understand the public anger and save face when they publish the final report.
First a link roundup, then discussion about what’s going on.
- The Atlantic has a good overview for those joining us late.
- Here is a phenomenal photo collection of the first rally in Freedom Square. It’s actually really interesting how it seems like a majority of the participants are older. The young certainly are present as well, but they are not the majority. When I asked a local friend of mine what why that was the case she said that many of her friends were told before the election that if they voted for Raffi, they’d be fired. They still voted for Raffi, trusting in the secrecy of the vote, but cannot show their support publically. Apparently those in some position of power where Raffi won are facing similar pressure.
- One Heritage representative says the best deal possible would be for Heritage to join a new coalition government. So far it seems like Raffi is rejecting any offers to join with the government.
- The city government of Yerevan said that rallies after the 22nd would be illegal as the local government has refused to authorize rallies between the 23rd and 25th. The logic is that they require a week notice, which is obviously impossible for these post-election rallies and could not have been given for the previous rallies. Hovannisian responded by holding very successful rallies in Gyumri and Vanadzor and in unplanned Aparan.
- Hovannisian also held an unauthorized rally today in Yerevan, with an estimated 4,000 supporters. Thankfully Hovannis ian kept it short and the police did not interfere too much. The police made an official statement about the illegality of the rally, including cutting off the electricity to the speakers. They then returned power and Hovannisian was able to finish his speech. For the record, if the police did forcibly disperse the crowd, the government would likely be found in violation of the right to freedom of assemblies by the European Court of Human Rights, but this view is debatable. The fact that the rally was unathortized doesn’t make it ipso facto illegal.
- Protests also occurred in New York and LA.
- The Ombudsman’s Office issued a press release (in Armenian) about the few hundred calls they received on the election. One of main issues people reported was bribes.
- An anti-OSCE protest occurred on the 22nd. The protestors were angry over OSCE’s glossing over of election fraud and thus implicitly legitimizing the authorities.
- A report I missed from earlier, Yerevan Press Club said that the media was neutral in its coverage of the campaigns. Unfortunately, that same media has chosen to ignore a number of the significant protestor events, creating an information vacuum for the public.
Overall, Raffi has been promoting peaceful resistance and activism. He’s asking students to walk out of class tomorrow at 11am to join in yet another rally. So far this strategy may have been the reason that the government hasn’t done much to limit his activity. Unlike Levon Ter-Petrossian’s fiery anti-government speeches in 2008, Raffi is not calling for violence. (For another comparison of now to 2008, here is a nice blog post.) The government is allegedly still trying to impede his actions (e.g. they closed the road to Yerevan from Gyumri today, allegedly to limit people from joining the protest), but any overt action on their end would lack even the preface of legitimacy like they had in 2008. While Andreas Ghoukasyan has called for civil disobedience, Hovannisian continues to reiterate that this was a win for the freedom of the people of Armenia and to remain peaceful. How Hovannisian wants to push for that freedom still remains to be seen.
In a shockingly strong statement, the Armenian Bar Association issued a press release congratulating the Armenian public for their “unprecedented show of willpower” for electing Raffi Hovannisian “against threats of persecution and against temptation.”
A1+ has a live stream of the President of the Armenian Bar discussing the issue.
- US State Department supports OSCE’s preliminary conclusions.
- A joint statement is being prepared by the opposition candidates. It’s unclear what significance this statement will have if it’s not about Hovannisian’s future plans. Prosperous Armenia is staying quiet.
- Ianyan has a good overview of the election for those joining in late.
Yesterday’s rally in Freedom Square was less a rally and more of a press release about today’s rally. Hovannisian said that he demanded the authorities to admit to their election fraud by 5pm today. He then led a march of the 1,000+ people down Mashtots avenue. Hovannisian is holding another rally today at 5pm at Freedom Square where he’ll likely say whether he’ll contest the election or accept the results.
I attended the rally and got the feeling that Hovannisian needed to stall to figure out what to do. Hovannisian has the opportunity to appeal the outcome to the constitutional court if he can show the election was rigged. It’s possible the constitutional court will either dismiss him out of hand or require a high level of proof of fraud. This means Hovannisian’s camp will essentially need to do a massive investigation of facts and quantitative analysis of the results without the help of the police and all in the 36 hours since the results were released. There is no way he’ll be able to gather the evidence in time, so the question remains open: what will he do? We’ll hopefully find out today at 5pm.
In other news, here is the statement by Lena Nazaryan from Transparency International who interrupted the OSCE press conference. Also, Candidate Andreas Ghukasyan has ended his hunger strike.
Today is a day of silence regarding the election; no candidate is allowed to campaign. Thankfully, the law doesn’t stop me from updating this blog. I’ve been extremely busy for the past week getting used to my news position from Caucasus Research Resource Center, but as the election is one day away, I need to post something.
Below is a list of some of the major issues of the election.
- For an overview of all the drama of the election, RFE/RL has a great write up.
- The police have reported the final voter list of 2,505,980 voters.
- But, among that list are potentially a million voters who are abroad and unable to vote. The law allows foreign Armenians that work in embassies and in large companies to vote but no one else. It’s understandable that embassy staff can vote abroad, but it’s odd that Armenians working for large companies are allowed to vote. The law is privileging certain Armenians simply because they are financially well situated. No modern democracy should put up financial or position-based restrictions on the right to vote. As the majority of this modern diaspora votes for the opposition, the government is not anxious to change this policy.
- ANC has stayed resolute in its boycott and is not encouraging its members to vote for any specific candidate.
- ARF-D has called for voter turnout to ensure empty ballots can’t be reused by the regime. They’re fine with voters doing whatever they like, even ripping up their ballot, just as long as they don’t vote for Sargsyan.
- Raffi Hovannisian has discussed some of the election violations with OSCE, but during his concluding speech he praised this election saying that no matter what, this is the first de jure presidency.
- Serzh Sargsyan, during his concluding speech, praised Hovannisian’s “beautiful” campaign style of connecting with the people, shaking hands with locals all over the country.
- Finally, rumors have come again discussing the grand bargain between Republican Party and Prosperous Armenia Party that kept PAP out of the election: they’re going to get the mayorship of Yerevan.
I’m going to be watching the news carefully tomorrow, but I and many others aren’t expecting too many surprises this election. The more important questions will be the turnout and how small Sargsyan’s margin of victory will be. These factors will dictate how much of a mandate Sargsyan will have leading into his second term.
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.
Political activity and university campuses have gone hand in hand since at least the 1960s. Major universities in the United States, including Berkeley and Columbia, held massive student movements discussing and protesting an assortment of political issues. Internationally, France had a massive protest, and first wildcat general strike, that started with student occupation, and Iran’s Green Movement had the University of Tehran as one of its cores.
This history feeds well with OSCE’s work to promote student activism through debates. The OSCE is coordinating university debate teams to challenge each other on important social issues in Armenia. These debates will help train the next leaders of Armenia with nuanced understanding of key issues while educating (and hopefully entertaining) audiences.
On the flip side, the Minister of Education has banned political activity on university campuses. This ban will continue until the presidential elections and applies to all parties. While facially neutral, in reality this will harm the opposition as it strips one of the key sources of political energy, universities, from them. While it does the same for the Republicans, the Republicans don’t need to hold rallies to win; the Republicans just need to stop the opposition from holding rallies to win. The deck is already heavily stacked against the opposition and this is just one more method the government is using to cement that advantage.