Saturday, July 16, 2005

Lines Being Drawn?

Theoretically, Armenia doesn't face the prospect of "revolution" until the next parliamentary elections scheduled for 2007. However, with local elections set for October and a controversial constitutional referendum due the following month, that's not to say that the political situation in the country doesn't risk becoming more inflamed. In fact, like the parliamentary elections scheduled for November in neighboring Azerbaijan, Armenia faces a very real test of its democratic credentials that will either resolve a lot of issues, or exasperate them.

Local elections have always been a matter of fierce contest between the pro-presidential parties. During the last round held three years ago, the two smaller members of the ruling coalition government, Orinats Yerkir and the ARF-D, accused the larger Republican Party of falsification and bribery. Despite it being considered that whoever controls local government controls the local levers for determining the outcome of parliamentary and presidential elections, the opposition somewhat ironically didn't seem to bother with them at all. And they still don't seem too concerned.

However, this time round, it probably doesn't matter. What is of more interest is whether or not the three coalition parties come to blows or not. The Republican Party have always taken local elections seriously but so too have Orinats Yerkir who now apparently have a strong network of support in the regions. This was said to me by the head of a very significant international organization recently. She also told me that she believed that Artur Baghdasarian, Head of Orinats Yerkir and Speaker of the Armenian National Assembly, would be the next President of the Republic of Armenia.

In fact, Baghdasarian was always considered in the running for succession to Kocharian. Popular with some European diplomats, especially in France, the incumbent President was always said to be grooming the young former HHsh MP for the position. Until that was, the opposition protests last year. Known for his populist approach, and sometimes even compared to an Armenian Saakashvili, Baghdasarian played his cards carefully and neither took the firm pro-presidential line he was expected too although he didn't come out in support of the opposition either.

That was enough, however, to make many analysts think that Kocharian could no longer trust the 36 year old. Now, it is assumed that Kocharian will either try and seek a ruling from the Constitutional Court to seek a third term in office on the basis of a new Constitution that will probably be invoked later in the year or will instead seek to pass power on to his most trusted lieutenant, the Defense Minister, Serzh Sarkisian. Which makes news that Baghdasarian is now speaking out on the constitution ammendments all the more interesting.

According to ArmInfo, as distributed by Groong, Baghdasarian has told reporters that the Armenian President cannot legally run for a third term in office. He has also said that it would be more appropiate if the president did not exercize any new, even if reduced, powers until the election of his successor. On the other hand, Baghdasarian has also stated that the parliament under his control should be able to exercize its new and stronger powers immediately after the new constitution is adopted.
At the same time, he said it would be fair if the incumbent president preserved until 2008 his powers which will be reduced under the constitutional reforms. "The president should exercise the powers with which he was elected," Bagdasaryan said. He also said that the parliament will get new powers after the approval of the constitutional reforms.
Nevertheless, the logic of Baghdasarian's argument that someone elected under one constitution should serve their tenure under the same should probably be the same for deputies in the Armenian National Assembly, especially as new parliamentary elections are scheduled for a year earlier than the next presidential ones. In the meantime, Baghdasarian is said to be on friendly terms with some significant figures in the opposition, including the firebrand radical opposition leader, Aram Z Sarkisian.

In fact, in recent months, the two youthful leaders have even been exchanging mutual compliments.

Which leads us to the question of leadership in Armenia. Unless there was a real shift in public opinion towards pro-government figures like the Defense Minister and also to opposition leaders such as Stepan Demirchian or Artashes Geghamian, both of which who have already failed to live up to public expectations, there are very few that might be able to represent the "change" that many in Georgia and Ukraine thought Saakashvili or Yushchenko represented.

Unlike Aram Z Sarkisian who favors less than democratic means to implement regime change in Armenia and who has too much "baggage" in terms of his assassinated brother, Baghdasarian could potentially represent a middle force able to appease both pro-governmental and pro-opposition political forces in Armenia. Kocharian and Serzh Sarkisian might also feel more secure that after their departure from the political scene, they would not face prosecution for past or alleged misdeeds.

Hard to say, really, but one thing is for sure. With the opposition and Council of Europe thrown into the mix over the constitutional ammendments, the political environment in Armenia is heating up and in 2006 we will enter into the run-up phase for the next parliamentary elections that will determine the next President of the Republic of Armenia. Seems to me that the battle will soon be on. One analyst, David Petrosian from Noyan Tapan, has even said that Artur Baghdasarian was one of the financial supporters behind the Bekum Civic Forum, the closest we have to a pro-democracy movement in Armenia so far.

Tag: | | |

Any opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of any publication or organization that he may be working for now, in the past or in the future.