Elections in Armenia: An Interview with Antranig Kasbarian

WATERTOWN, Mass.—The Armenian Weekly and the Hairenik Weekly conducted an interview with the chairman of the ARF Central Committee of the Eastern US on the upcoming elections in Armenia this weekend. Below is the English translation of the interview.

What can be expected from the May 6 elections in Armenia? Do you anticipate any differences from previous elections?

There will, of course, be differences between these elections and previous ones, but unfortunately they will not be profound ones. For example, bribes are rampant and the ruling elites are “buying” votes in this pre-election period. There will also be irregularities on Election Day, but over the years, vote rigging on Election Day has decreased, giving the not-so-accurate impression that the political situation in the country is improving.

There are also other differences compared to previous years. This time, the most heated battle is between the two ruling parties, the Republican Party and the Prosperous Armenia Party, while the opposition forces, even the Armenian National Congress, appear weak and vulnerable.

What can you say in this context about the specific case of the ARF?

There are certain differences here too. When the ARF was still part of the government—when it had ministers and local governors—means to impact the overall election process were available. Also, the ARF received some support from the ruling elite—such support is almost certainly precluded today. Therefore, more than ever, the ARF has to now rely on its own abilities, continuing to strengthen its ties with citizens from all walks of life. This requires relentless efforts in the spheres of communications, outreach, finances, etc.

The ARF has prepared an election platform that stands out. Do you think it will attract a significant number of voters?

Yes, the ARF has prepared a truly comprehensive pre-election program that reflects our broad platform. It covers the important bases—the political, economic, social, and foreign policy dimensions—objectively presenting the current state of affairs and suggesting possible solutions. The ARF leadership in Armenia has invested a significant amount of time on this effort, and has been presenting its election platform at campaign events and rallies across the country.

Unfortunately, the pre-election atmosphere and culture in the country has deteriorated in recent years. Election platforms and programs, which should have a profound impact on the voter, fail to do so. Instead, finances have the greatest impact on the voter. Unfortunately, election money speaks louder and more convincingly than comprehensive election platforms. I cannot blame the people entirely, though, because many are under profound financial duress and are looking for means to improve their lot. Regardless, the ARF is steadfast on the conviction that the people deserve fair, transparent elections, based on political debate and a healthy discourse. We are hopeful that this will be realized in the coming days.

The platform itself is a very extensive document, which includes all the reforms that we consider to be imperative. In the economic sphere, for examples, it envisions laws that secure a competitive economy, and one which encourages exports. In the social sphere, it proposes laws to guarantee freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Laws are also proposed to secure the independence of the judiciary, to reform the electoral system, etc. For more details, go to www.arf2012.am.

We often hear that the ARF has not succeeded in galvanizing a broad base, why is this the case? Moving ahead, do you see this changing?

It is difficult to give a definitive answer to this question. On the one hand, it is a fact that the current ruling elite—the Republicans and Prosperous Armenia in particular—are doing their utmost to maintain the status quo. Against this onslaught, the task of the opposition parties has become considerably difficult. The ARF, the Heritage Party, and the Armenian National Congress and others are all trying to secure a broad base of support. While the people closely follow the political developments, the press conferences, and election campaigns, it is important to note that to follow developments is one thing, to go out and vote is another. I have often witnessed certain political leaders and candidates receiving enthusiastic support in villages and towns during election campaigns, but the election results have not reflected this enthusiasm.

The ruling elite continuously stresses that the election will be free and transparent. Do you share that optimism?

To be fair, in recent years, Election Day in Armenia has been much more peaceful and calm than before. The means of the past—beatings, threats, switching ballot boxes, etc.—are still employed, but much less frequently than before. The reasons for this improvement are many: the influence of foreign observers, international pressure, etc. But the general state of affairs, in essence, remains the same. Now the means are different; Armenia’s oligarchs secure their positions through bribes, maneuvers, and “legal” means. Thus the process is increasingly becoming more comparable to the kinds of corruption that we encounter in “civilized” countries. Of course the majority of the people notices this, which is why they have become so cynical.

What are the chances of the ARF in these elections?

I think the ARF can clear the five percent mark required for political parties to secure seats in parliament. I believe that the ARF will gain the confidence of the people, especially for the seats allocated through proportional representation. The party also has a core constituency of loyal voters, who vote for the ARF because they admire its stance on national issues. But today, due to the dire circumstances in the country, social and economic issues take precedence over national issues for the voters.

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