Preparations for the parliamentary election race are entering the homestretch in Armenia as political parties are finalizing their lists of candidates and nominations that are due to be submitted to the Central Election Commission (CEC) by March 22.
The ruling Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) and the opposition parties, Heritage and Free Democrats, have already unveiled their slates, with the latter two participating in the May 6 parliamentary vote with a single ticket.
The Free Democrats party and the pro-establishment Prosperous Armenia Party (PAP) held their conventions in Yerevan late last week.
Remarkably, speakers at the PAP convention, which was also attended by President Serzh Sargsyan, the leader of the RPA, voiced some sharp criticism regarding the government policy, in particular the continuing emigration from Armenia and the situation of the small and medium-sized enterprises.
In his speech, ex-Minister of Foreign Affairs Vartan Oskanian, who joined the PAP only recently, in particular, said: “According to official statistics, the number of the Armenian population has decreased from the threshold of 3 million people. If the social-economic situation and the political environment in our country don’t change in the short-term perspective, we will soon reach the threshold of 2.5 million.”
Addressing the Karabakh issue, the former foreign minister stressed that Armenia should not compromise on democracy because of the unresolved conflict with Azerbaijan and the threat of war that lingers on.
“I often hear people say that we’ve got the Karabakh issue, the threat of war, and, simply, we cannot afford complete freedom, complete democracy, we cannot afford full tolerance. I would say exactly the opposite: because we have the Karabakh issue, we must become democratic as soon as possible. We have the threat of war hanging above our heads, and we need to create, as soon as possible, a state political system based on counterbalances, consonant with the European system, and integrate into European institutions as far as possible. We have the Karabakh problem and, therefore, ought to create opportunities for as an economy that would be as open, fair and competitive as possible,” stressed Oskanian.
In general, virtually all political parties in their election rhetoric emphasize the need for European integration. But only two major parties overtly state that in order to embark on the European path Armenia first needs to give up what they regard as excessively obliging relations with Russia, instead establishing ties with Moscow that would not compromise Armenia’s sovereignty – something that they think is the case now.
In particular, speaking at the Free Democrats Party Congress on Friday, Conservative Party leader Mikael Hayrapetyan openly declared that Armenia’s the membership in the Russia-led defense alliance of six foreign Soviet states (called Collective Security Treaty Organization, or CSTO) and Russian colonialism are obstacles in the way of the country’s development. Earlier, the Heritage Party said in its resolution that Armenia should not have extended the lease on the deployment of the Russian military base in Armenia.
Heritage and Free Democrats will contest the May 6 parliamentary elections with a single list of candidates, with Heritage founding leader Raffi Hovannisian on top of the slate, followed by Free Democrats leader Khachatur Kokobelyan. Both parties advocate a review of relations with Russia and European orientation. They also seek a change of power in Armenia.
Kokobelyan stated at the Congress that Armenia has no future without a modern liberal state. “We need changes rather than just reforms, changes that will lead to a better life. Everyone is talking about the bright future, but we must ensure the good present. Therefore, it is necessary to change the power and not the homeland,” said the Free Democrats leader. Both Heritage and Free Democrats regard today’s power in Armenia as the rule of oligarchy.
Meanwhile, the ruling Republican Party headed by President Sargsyan speaks the loudest about the need of changes. But despite its promises of change, the RPA presented a list of candidates mostly consisting of “old-timers” who advocate Armenia’s future within the emerging Eurasian Union. Remarkably, leader of the National Unity Party Artashes Geghamyan, who is one of the most vocal proponents of Armenia’s closer integration with Russia, is among the top 20 candidates on the list.