Accessibility links

Breaking News

Caucasus Report: April 7, 1999

7 April 1999, Volume 2, Number 14

What Do the Electoral Alliances in Armenia Mean? With eight weeks to go before the 30 May Armenian parliamentary elections, some observers in Yerevan are expressing concern both about the creation of electoral alliances that they interpret as reflecting a struggle for power among the country's top leadership and about perceived widespread apathy on the part of the electorate.

By the 30 March deadline, 15 individual parties and six electoral blocs had informed the Central Electoral Commission of their intention to contest the elections and had set about collecting the required number of signatures in their support needed for formal registration. (The total number of candidates registered to contest seats under either the proportional or the majoritarian system already exceeds 1,800.) As of early April, only five of those 21 parties and blocs appeared to have a chance of surmounting the 5 percent barrier required for representation under the proportional system. Those five are the Miasnutyun bloc uniting the People's Party of Armenia (HZhK) and Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), the Dashnak party (HHD), the National Democratic Union, the Self-Determination Union, and the Communist Party of Armenia.

The latter four of those five parties are all firmly established on the Armenian political scene, and the leaders of the National Democratic Union, Self-Determination Union, and CPA were all candidates in either the 1996 or the 1998 presidential elections or both. Miasnutyun, by contrast, represents what sociologist Levon Baghdasarian in an interview with "Yerkir" described as the "unification of the new and old nomenklaturas." The first of its two components, the People's Party of Armenia, was formed last year by former Armenian CP First Secretary Karen Demirchian, and already has an estimated 25,000 members. Demirchian, who is 67, had eschewed politics for almost a decade after his dismissal by CPSU Central Committee General-Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev in May 1988. Demirchian made a sensational comeback last year to contend the preterm presidential elections, which he lost in the second round to acting President Robert Kocharian.

The Republican Party, whose chairman is Defense Minister Vazgen Sargsian, was also formed last year through a merger of the small Republican Party, which until then had espoused a nationalist ideology, with the political wing of the Yerkrapah Union of Karabakh war veterans. The Yerkrapah had formed its own parliamentary group in late 1997, and emerged as the largest single group within parliament in February 1998 as a result of defections from the ruling Hanrapetutiun coalition. Vazgen Sargsian described the revamped Republican Party at its constituent congress last November as uniting "centrist forces," and as President Kocharian's "main power base."

Sargsian personally, and Yerkrapah by extension, are perceived by many in Armenia as wielding immense power. Observers there have explained his alliance with Demirchian in terms of Sargsian benefitting from Demirchian's unquestioned popularity. (Demirchian has outperformed every other Armenian politician in his ability to socialize with ordinary people. His combination of folksy language with bossy, paternalistic behavior arouses sympathy among common folk.) Demirchian, for his part, is perceived as standing to receive some prominent position (either that of premier or parliament speaker) following the election.

It is, however, unclear whether Sargsian's alliance with Demirchian signifies the deepening of the rift that some commentators are convinced exists between the defense minister and Kocharian. Discussing that possibility on 27 March, the pro-HHD newspaper "Hayots ashkhar" suggested that other Armenian political parties are gravitating towards the opposite "pole," which the papers sees as bringing together Kocharian, Interior Minister Serzh Sarkisian, and the leadership of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.

A third leading politician, Prime Minister Armen Darpinian, is believed to be backing the center-right alliance "Decent Future," which is headed by respected sociologist Lyudmila Harutiunian. (Liz Fuller and Emil Danielyan)

Karabakh Strongman Confirms Interest in Armenian Elections. General Samvel Babayan, the powerful defense minister of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, has confirmed reports that he is backing a small nationalist bloc in the upcoming Armenian parliamentary elections. He also admits to having serious differences with the Armenian government over economic policy. The 33-year-old Babayan commanded the NKR Defense Army in the war with Azerbaijan prior to the May 1994 cease-fire. He is believed to have enormous influence in Armenia.

"Yes, I do sponsor the Iravunk yev Miabanutyun (Right and Accord) electoral alliance. It is impossible to be indifferent to the [Armenian] parliamentary elections," Babayan said on 3 April in a written response, faxed from his office in Stepanakert, to questions submitted by RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau. "I very much wish the people will at last make an absolutely right choice, because the future of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh may hinge on these elections."

Iravunk yev Miabanutyun is composed of several small nationalist groups, two of which represent Armenians from Karabakh, and takes a hard line on resolving the Karabakh conflict. Few observers believe the alliance will be able to pass the 5 percent threshold in the voting under the proportional system. Some of its leaders have better chances of being elected to parliament from single-candidate constituencies.

Babayan explained that he is supporting the bloc in an effort to promote a "rule-of-law state." He added that the people must always feel confident that their elected representatives are capable of protecting their interests.

Asked whether he made a right decision in not relying on a political heavyweight in Armenia, Babayan said: "I have one weakness: I love the unprotected and weak. That is, those whose rights have been violated." He said his "sponsorship" of the Iravunk yev Miabanutyun bloc will not necessarily involve campaign donations. "I don't think that all problems can be resolved by any sums [of money]," he wrote.

Babayan also said his views on economic policy "are quite different from the policy pursued by the present authorities." In particular he criticized the privatization policies of successive governments in Yerevan, as a result of which he claimed "the biggest enterprises in Armenia have been taken over mainly by government representatives."

"For us, the Karabakhtsis, Armenia's economic development has been and remains a vital priority, because we cannot think of a future for Nagorno-Karabakh without Armenia's strengthening and prosperity," he said.

Asked how far the Karabakh leadership's involvement in Armenian politics can go, the defense minister replied: "Now that the struggle for power in Armenia is becoming increasingly tense and democratic principles are often ignored, which has a negative impact on Nagorno-Karabakh as well, I think that our participation is becoming a vital necessity." (Ruzanna Khachatrian and Emil Danielyan)

Does Georgia Need A Lustration Law? Speaking at a press conference in Tbilisi on 30 March, two members of the Coordinating Council for the Persecuted, which represents Georgians forced to flee Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the early 1990s, argued that the Georgian parliament should pass a lustration law modelled on that of Lithuania, RFE/RL's Tbilisi bureau reported. The Lithuanian legislation bans any former KGB employee from holding state office, or from heading an economic enterprise, for a period of ten years.

The Coordinating Committee's interest in such legislation is three-fold. First, they believe it would exonerate them from the charges that they themselves are former KGB agents. The source of those allegations is Abkhaz parliament in exile chairman Tamaz Nadareishvili, who also claims to represent the interests of the displaced persons from Abkhazia. The two men have been at odds for years (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 1, No. 37, 10 November 1998). Second, they claim that most members of Georgia's top leadership, including the current head of state, are former KGB agents whose continued presence in their current posts, the committee believes, is harmful to Georgia's national interests. And third, they believe such legislation is a precondition for Georgia to quit the CIS and abjure alignment either with Russia or the West, both of which figure among their foreign policy priorities.

At the same press conference, Boris Kakubava, the Coordinating Committee chairman, expressed his support for a possible presidential bid by former intelligence chief Igor Giorgadze. Giorgadze left Georgia shortly after the August 1995 car-bomb attack on Eduard Shevardnadze, which the Georgian authorities accuse him of masterminding. He is believed to be in hiding in Syria, although Kakubava had claimed in February that Giorgadze was in Tbilisi. Kakubava went on to cite the findings of a recent opinion poll that revealed that 38 percent of those questioned would vote for Adjar Supreme Council chairman Aslan Abashidze as Georgian president, 26 percent for Igor Giorgadze, and only 9 percent for Eduard Shevardnadze.

It is unclear just what proportion of Georgia's displaced persons suppport Kakubava, or whether they too would endorse Giorgadze's presidential candidacy. In the short term, however, Kakubava's expression of support for Giorgadze could be interpreted by his political opponents (Nadareishvili in the first instance) as substantiating the charge that he himself is a former KGB agent. (Liz Fuller)

Quotation Of The Week. "Armenia cannot afford to pursue a one-sided and isolationist foreign policy." -- Presidential spokesman Vahe Gabrielian, quoted by RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau, 6 April 1999.