“Bribery was much more prevalent than before,” a Western diplomat confirmed.
Yesterday's parliamentary election in Armenia yielded few surprises. President Serzh Sargsyan's Republican Party won, with 44% of the vote, amid charges of fraud and vote-rigging that will be familiar to Armenia-watchers.
Yet, unlike the presidential election in February 2008, after which eight demonstrators were killed in clashes with security forces, there was little violence yesterday. This is a measure of progress in the poor and landlocked former Soviet republic. “Armenia deserves recognition for its electoral reforms and its open and peaceful campaign” said observers from the OSCE. But, they added, “stakeholders” had too often failed to comply with electoral law, and the election commission had “too often failed to enforce it.”
Most western observers agreed that ballot-stuffing and coercion was scarce, compared to previous elections. And in a further sign of progress, Armenia's quarrelsome civil-society movement mobilised to keep the elections clean. Their efforts paid off when local election observers uncovered what has been dubbed the case of the disappearing stamps. This emerged when hundreds of voters, including Vartan Oskanian, a former foreign minister, complained that ink markings on their passports designed to prevent multiple voting had disappeared within minutes of being stamped. The story spread quickly online, forcing the election commission to put out a statement.
Still, such apparent improvements must be set again opposition charges that thousands of votes were bought. Incriminating footage was posted on YouTube. “Bribery was much more prevalent than before,” a Western diplomat confirmed.
The Prosperous Armenia party came second in the election, winning 30% of the vote. Led by Gagik Tsarukyan, a controversial millionaire and former arm-wrestling champion with a penchant for white suits and pet lions, the party has supported the Republicans in an informal coalition. But that help has come at the expense of the kinds of reform that would trim the powers of Armenia's oligarchs.
Poverty, unemployment, corruption and emigration continue to plague Armenia, a small but fiercely proud nation of 3m people that has been wracked by conflict with neighbouring Azerbaijan. Yet after his party's success yesterday, most observers say that unless the opposition can agree on a candidate Mr Sargsyan is likely to be re-elected to a second presidential term. His predecessor, the thuggish Robert Kocharian, is likely to continue to wield influence via Prosperous Armenia from behind the scenes.
Mr Sargsyan, a former defence minister who oversaw the war successfully prosecuted by Armenia against Azerbaijan in the early 1990s, has stirred his own share of controversy. In late 2010 a Wikileaks cable dating from 2008 appeared to suggest that he had authorised the sale of weapons to Iran that were used against American soldiers in Iraq.
The revelation of this scandal made surprisingly few waves. And Mr Sargsyan continues deftly to steer the middle ground between strategic ties with Armenia's chief mentor, Russia, and closer partnership with the European Union and America. In 2008 Mr Sargsyan took a big risk when he signed a set of protocols with Turkey, an ancient foe, that foresaw the establishment of diplomatic ties and the re-opening of the Turkish-Armenian border. In the event Turkey shelved the agreement following a barrage of threats from its ally Azerbaijan. Turkey maintains that its alliance with the Azeris is rooted in common faith and culture; Azerbaijan's vast energy wealth may also have had something to do with it.
Source: The Economist, 07 May 2012