Armenia Finally Holds Mostly Fair Elections

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by Harut Sassounian May, 2007

Armenians worldwide can now breathe a big sigh of relief after months of speculation, fears of domestic turmoil, and threats by the U.S. and Europeans of canceling multi-million dollar assistance programs in Armenia in the event that they judged the elections to be tainted.

Armenia has finally succeeded in holding mostly fair parliamentary elections.

International observers, while pointing out some irregularities, were unanimous in confirming that the May 12 elections were "a step forward," "aclear improvement over previous elections" and "in compliance with international standards."

More than 20 political parties fielded candidates in this election, while several others did not participate either to protest previous unfair elections or to avoid the embarrassment of an expected poor showing. In the parliamentary elections, citizens may cast two votes: the first vote is to elect candidates that represent them in their home districts, similarto U.S. congressional elections; and the second is a nationwide vote for political parties. Of the 131 seats in Parliament, 90 are allocated for political parties that receive more than 5% of the total national vote, while the remaining 41 seats are for individual representatives.

Five parties, three pro-government and two from the opposition, surpassed the required minimum threshold of 5%: the Republican Party of Armenia (won 33% of the national vote) led by Serge Sarkisian who is the leading contender in next February-s presidential election; the recently-formed Prosperous Armenia Party (won 15% of the vote) led by wealthy businessman Gagik Tsarukian; theARF won 13% of the vote; the Country of Laws Party (7% of the vote) led by Artur Baghdasarian, former Chairman of the Parliament who left the ruling coalition and joined the ranks of the opposition; and finally, the opposition Heritage Party (6% of the vote), led by U.S.-born former Foreign Minister Raffi Hovannisian, made its maiden entry into the Parliament.

The Republican Party (RPA), having won most of the 41 single mandate seats in addition to capturing one-third of the national vote, has registered a landslide victory. It now holds close to one half of all the seats in Parliament. In the coming days, RPA will probably form a coalition with the Prosperous Armenia Party and the ARF which will give the new ruling coalition control of more than 80% of the parliamentary seats.

Most of the opposition parties did not exceed the required 5% threshold because they had failed to form an anti-government coalition and put forward a joint slate of candidates. It would not be surprising if these opposition parties are either disbanded or reconstituted under new leadership. On the other hand, the very impressive success of Serge Sarkisian-s Republican Party is expected to catapult him to the presidency in February 2008.

We now would like to update our readers on two other on-going issues:

The first deals with "sensitive" internal State Department documents obtained by the Armenian National Committee through the Freedom of Information Act.

They cover the forced early retirement of Amb. John Evans for having uttered the words Armenian Genocide during his appearances in California in February 2005. These documents show that while State Department officials were publicly praising Amb. Evans and expressing their wishes that he would serve as ambassador in Armenia as long as possible, in fact they were ordering him to leave his post and return to the U.S immediately. By doing so, U.S. officials could then tell the Senators that since Armenia did not have a U.S. ambassador, the Senate must ratify the nomination of his successor, Richard Hoagland. This underhanded tactic was a complete failure. Amb. Hoagland is still waiting to be confirmed more than a year after he was first nominated, because of the hold placed on his confirmation by Sen. Robert Menendez.

Secondly, based on copies of the e-mails received by this writer, the Los Angeles Times is continuing to receive a steady stream of complaints from Armenians worldwide. They are calling for the dismissal of Managing Editor Douglas Frantz because of his discrimination against Armenian-American reporter Mark Arax whose article on the Armenian Genocide was blocked by Frantz. Meanwhile, several Turkish websites and lobbying groups have started an e-mail campaign in defense of Frantz. By sending such e-mails, the Turks are inadvertently helping to keep the Frantz fiasco alive. It is clearly counter-productive for Turks to be rushing to the aid of Frantz. The Turkish support of Frantz only serves to confirm the accusations that he is a Turkophile and not an independent journalist.