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Armenia: Opposition looks for a new strategy

Publisher EurasiaNet
Publication Date 10 June 2009
Cite as EurasiaNet, Armenia: Opposition looks for a new strategy, 10 June 2009, available at: [accessed 31 May 2016]
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6/10/09: A EurasiaNet Commentary by Haroutiun Khachatrian

Defeated repeatedly at the polls, the Armenian National Congress, Armenia's largest opposition movement, finds itself on a slippery slope and is struggling to gain traction.

Based on official results for Yerevan's May 31 City Council race, the governing Republican Party of Armenia scooped up 35 of the council's 65 seats, enough to ensure that its candidate, Gagik Beglarian, retained his post as the capital's mayor. The ANC, headed by ex-President Levon Ter-Petrosian, placed third, with 13 seats. Governing coalition member Prosperous Armenia secured the remaining 17 seats.

Angered by alleged election violations ranging from bribery to physical intimidation, the opposition movement has opted to boycott the council and to take its complaints to court. The movement had hoped a strong showing in the municipal election would remove some of the bitter taste left by the 2008 presidential vote, which culminated in violent clashes. Now, alliance leaders face a daunting challenge of rebuilding.

Levon Zurabian, a senior member of the ANC, told EurasiaNet that the movement's tactics are still under discussion and cannot be disclosed. While calling on supporters on June 1 to "be ready for a very decisive struggle," Zurabian stated that the comment should not be interpreted as meaning that the ANC is ready to consider non-peaceful means of protest.

Ter-Petrosian stated that the ANC's post-election plan of action will be announced at the movement's next Yerevan protest rally on June 12.

One political scientist suggested that it is time for a change, arguing that a protest strategy can only take the ANC so far. "The popularity of Ter-Petrosian and, later, of the ANC was based mainly on the social protest [movement] that sprang up during the current authorities' 10 years in power," commented Ashot Khurshudian, an expert with the International Center for Human Development, a Yerevan-based think tank. "These protesting moods cannot last long. So the ANC may have difficulties in forming a political platform"attractive for voters," he said.

Khurshudian said a better alternative would be for the ANC to engage in "hard work as an opposition faction" in the Yerevan City Council. But ANC leaders show little sign of giving serious thought to such an idea at this time.

In the near term, ANC leaders are focusing their efforts on convincing a court – and the general public – that the council election results should be invalidated. The Central Election Committee already has rejected the ANC's assertion that the vote results should be declared void because of alleged election law violations.

Supporters argue that bribery secured the Yerevan vote for the Republican Party. In response, Republican Party spokesperson Eduard Sharmazanov referred a EurasiaNet reporter to an assertion by party leader President Serzh Sargsyan that anyone guilty of election abuses should be punished.

Neither analysts nor ANC activists pin strong hopes on the outcome of this court battle. The ANC's Zurabian predicted that the ANC's complaint would likely be rejected. "But we must take all steps required by the law," he added.

Cooperation – or competition – with other opposition groups poses an additional challenge. While few believe that a party exists that could rival the ANC or the Republican Party, some members of the Heritage Party have begun nipping at the ANC's heels.

At a June 5 news conference, two Heritage Party MPs, Armen Martirosian and Zaruhi Postanjian, declared that the Yerevan vote showed that the ANC "is not a mature political force yet." They criticized Ter-Petrosian for not only his campaign tactics during the May 31 poll, but also during the March 1, 2008 crackdown on protests against last year's presidential vote.

Heritage Party founder Raffi Hovannisian apparently does not agree. In a June 8 statement, the American-born politician called on the ANC to cooperate with the Heritage Party and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation. "It is high time for opposition political forces to analyze their wrong steps," ArmInfo reported Hovannisian as saying. Earlier attempts at collaboration between the Heritage Party and ANC have proven fruitless, however.

Stymied on the domestic front, Ter-Petrosian may, in the end, put greater emphasis on attacks against President Serzh Sargsyan's foreign policy. The government's recent attempts at reconciliation with Turkey have become increasingly controversial.

"The height of tension can be expected in the autumn when new developments in Turkish-Armenian relations are possible," said Sergei Minasian, a political analyst with the Caucasus Institute. "Tensions on the domestic political front are less possible."

Editor's Note: Haroutiun Khachatrian is an editor and freelance writer based in Yerevan.

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