Political Dialogue Breaks Down in Armenia
|Publisher||Institute for War and Peace Reporting|
|Publication Date||16 September 2011|
|Citation / Document Symbol||CRS Issue 609|
|Cite as||Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Political Dialogue Breaks Down in Armenia, 16 September 2011, CRS Issue 609, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4e78398e2.html [accessed 11 July 2014]|
After highly-publicised talks between the Armenian government and the largest opposition party collapsed, analysts said the renewal of hostilities masked a desire by both sides to position themselves for a parliamentary election next May.
The dialogue was intended to bring the Armenian National Congress, ANC, into the political process, eliminating the risk of mass protests and the kind of violence that followed the 2008 presidential ballot. Ten people died in the election, which defeated ANC candidate Levon Ter-Petrosyan said was fraudulent. (For more on the start of the dialogue earlier this year, see Winds of Change in Armenian Politics.)
On August 9, just three weeks into the negotiating process, the ANC suspended its participation after seven of its young members were involved in a clash. One activist, Tigran Arakelyan, is still behind bars.
"It was clear to us that even if the dialogue went well, it wasn't going to lead to the result we wanted, as that would depend on the amount of pressure that the people applied," party leader Ter-Petrosyan told supporters on September 9. "The cessation or even final cancellation of the dialogue does not, therefore, change our plans. Our goal remains the same – an immediate change of government, forced by unstoppable mass protests, and the full deconstruction of this criminal state."
Ter-Petrosyan said that if Arakelyan was released soon, the ANC would still be prepared to come back to the negotiating table. "If not, we will withdraw from the talks and we will be forced to employ another kind of language to address the authorities."
Arman Hakobyan, an analyst with the Centre for Political Studies in Yerevan, said the clash suggested that one of the two sides had not entered the talks in good faith.
"If – as the authorities insist – the young people are to blame for committing acts of hooliganism against the guardians of law and order, then the ANC did not want to pursue the dialogue. But if they are blameless and it was the police themselves who provoked the incident, as the ANC says, then one can conclude that the authorities didn't want to continue with the dialogue," he said.
Hakobyan concluded, "It isn't really important which side is in the right, since this shows that at least one of them wasn't serious about the dialogue. That being the case, I don't imagine the public will invest great hopes in the dialogue."
Opposition leaders has always said September was the end date by which the talks must produce results, otherwise they would return to their earlier demand for immediate presidential and parliamentary elections.
The ruling Republican Party is not taking such threats very seriously, however. Its deputy leader, Galust Sahakyan, accused the ANC of using Tigran Arakelyan's detention as a pretext to get out of the talks.
"I think the ANC has placed itself in a difficult situation and now it isn't sure what to do," he said. "They have worked out that the dialogue isn't going to produce the results they want. There won't be any early elections, time is going by, and they have a dwindling number of supporters."
Sahakyan predicted that Ter-Petrosyan's party would become increasingly combative, saying, "As election day draws closer, the ANC will make ever tougher statements so as to win more seats in parliament. I think that's natural. At the same time, I favour continuation of the dialogue, although I don't think that Armenia will suffer greatly if it is cancelled."
Davit Hovhannisyan, a political analyst and former diplomat, expressed regret at the breakdown of talks.
"This dialogue was an important process between these two political forces, and held out hope of some kind of joint agreement on launching a process to tackle problems facing our society. The collapse of the dialogue shows this is impossible," he said.
Stepan Safaryan, who heads the parliamentary opposition Heritage party, which was not involved in the dialogue, suggested that the international community – specifically the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe – could play a role in encouraging a return to the negotiating table. "Neither side would then wish to break off the dialogue and run into problems with the Council of Europe," he argued.
Ultimately, Safaryan said, "I don't think that a dialogue will lead to any major changes in the political life of the country as a whole. Even now, we can see that competition between political forces will become even fiercer in the build-up to the election. And it's obvious that the government's main aim is to replicate itself."
Hovhannisyan agreed that things were likely to hot up.
"I think the political situation will flare up before the election. The current dangerous trends will become more acute because… there are no mitigating factors, which could only come into being if the monopoly system was dismantled. I don't see any steps in that direction," he said.
"The domestic political situation will therefore deteriorate, peaking when social and economic problems are at their worst. As a rule, that happens in winter."