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Armenian Election Alignments Take Shape

A number of small parties have dropped out of the opposition coalition led by Levon Ter-Petrossian over disagreements about their number of candidates on the voting lists.
A number of small parties have dropped out of the opposition coalition led by Levon Ter-Petrossian over disagreements about their number of candidates on the voting lists.
With two months to go before the May 6 Armenian parliamentary elections, serious disagreements have emerged within the Armenian National Congress (HAK), the main opposition umbrella group headed by former President Levon Ter-Petrossian.

Meanwhile, following the collapse of the February 2011 agreement between the three members of the ruling coalition government to contest the ballot jointly, the Bargavach Hayastan (Prosperous Armenia) party, one of the two coalition junior partners, has formally aligned with the small United Labor Party (MAK) headed by businessman Gurgen Arsenian.

The MAK won election to parliament in the 2003 elections and in 2007 narrowly missed garnering the minimum 5 percent of the vote needed to preserve its representation. Arsenian hinted last fall that he would form an election alliance for the 2012 ballot, possibly with President Serzh Sarkisian's Republican Party of Armenia (HHK).

And the opposition Zharangutiun (Heritage) party and the Free Democrats are reportedly close to agreement on fielding a combined list of candidates to contest the 90 parliament mandates distributed under the proportional system.

At a press conference in Yerevan on March 6, four of the 22 political parties and groups aligned in the HAK announced that they will boycott the May 6 election after failing to reach agreement with Ter-Petrossian on their representation on the HAK's list of candidates for the proportional vote.

Representatives of the National Revival, Fatherland and Honor, and Christian Democratic Rebirth parties and the Armenian Alliance of Volunteers made clear their displeasure that Ter-Petrossian has secured from the HAK board carte blanche to draw up singlehanded the HAK list of proportional candidates.

A fifth HAK member, the Hanrapetutiun party headed by former Prime Minister Aram Sarkisian, signalled similar frustration two weeks ago that Sarkisian will be its sole representative on the HAK list.

It is conceivable that Ter-Petrossian is prepared to alienate some elements within the HAK in the hope of joining forces with BH. True, BH failed to respond to Ter-Petrossian's statement last November that cooperation between the two parties could "radically change the configuration of political forces" in Armenia. Echoing that overture, senior HAK member Armen Musinian said 10 days ago the HAK "is ready" for cooperation with BH if the latter "demonstrates in the coming months and on election day that it is really interested in free and fair elections."

Ter-Petrossian for his part told a rally in Yerevan on March1 he welcomed the decision by former Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian to join BH, insofar as it's likely to compound dissent between the HHK and its coalition partners. Oskanian attended the MAK congress one week ago at which Arsenian announced the alignment with BH.

Ter-Petrossian referred disparagingly to President Sarkisian, to whom according to official returns he placed second in the February 2008 presidential election, as "a sinking ship."

Another Alliance

The third potential new alignment is that between Zharangutiun and the Free Democrats. Zharangutiun, which has seven mandates in the outgoing legislature, is headed by Raffi Hovannisian, a U.S.-born Armenian who served in 1992-93 as Ter-Petrossian's first postindependence foreign minister.

The founding members of the Free Democrats quit the HAK a year ago under pressure. They include yet another former foreign minister, Alexander Arzumanian, who headed Ter-Petrossian's 2008 presidential election campaign and was subsequently jailed for his participation in the postelection protests that degenerated into violence on March 1-2 of that year.

Free Democrat Ararat Zurabian told RFE/RL's Armenian Service that the alliance between the two parties "already exists" and only "technical issues" remain to be ironed out. A formal announcement is expected at a Zharangutiun congress scheduled for March 18.

Meanwhile, speculation continues as to how many and which specific parties will be represented in the new parliament, and whether the HHK will resort to refined falsification to preserve its overall majority. Most observers predict that the HHK, BH, and the HAK will win representation, together with the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutiun) and Zharangutiun.

It's not clear whether the third coalition partner, Orinats Yerkir (Law-Based State), which is headed by Security Council Secretary Artur Baghdasarian, will survive as a viable political force.

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.


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