A Renewed ARF Can Help Build Democracy in New Armenia

A renewed ARF can help build democracy in new Armenia
A renewed ARF can help build democracy in new Armenia

A renewed ARF can help build democracy in new Armenia

BY HAIG KAYSERIAN

The Yerevan City Elections in September proved beyond doubt, that support for the Nikol Pashinyan-led popular movement is more than the few hundred thousand bodies cheering rousing speeches and dancing to funky tunes in the Republic Square. There are many more from where these bodies came from, and together, they project the voice of a mobilized electorate which is clearly ready to vote for the change that they helped achieve.

This mobilization achieved a landslide 81% victory for the Pashinyan-backed Mayoral candidacy of his party colleague, Hayk Marutyan and the “My Step” Bloc in the Yerevan City Elections.

There is a strong chance of a similar wipeout brewing at the soon-to-be-announced Extraordinary National Assembly Elections. The odds in favor of this wipeout have been further shortened after Pashinyan was able to flex his ‘people muscle’ following a vote – by the Republican Party of Armenia (RPA), the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) and the Tsarukyan Bloc – which was ironically designed to prevent the use of this ‘people muscle’ to decide the timing of the next National Assembly Elections.

As things are playing out, it seems increasingly likely that Pashinyan’s wish for sooner elections will come true.

Following the Yerevan City Elections, I heard the commentary of some who seem to believe that the 54% who chose not to vote in the Yerevan City Elections (the turnout was 46%) are somehow filled with those who do not support the Velvet Revolution. As a result of this belief, these commentators seemed to argue that if the ousted Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) was to participate, it would have attracted most of the “boycotting” voters and therefore won them the election.

These commentators are either drunk and/or living under a meteor. It is time they wake up and smell the change that has arrived in Armenian politics! Call it ‘superficial’, if you want. Call it ‘populist’, if that is what you believe. Call it ‘inadequate’, if you yearn for more. These are all fair opinions, but to suggest that Armenian politics has not changed is smacking fact in the face.

Judging by the continuing honeymoon period for Pashinyan and his Civil Contract Party, it seems they are the only ones who are actually prepared for this change. They are the ones writing the rules of the game, and then playing by those rules with no serious competition.

However, for the sake of democracy rather than monopoly – or even demagoguery – eventuating in the Republic, the other political aspirants in the country need to accept that there is a New Armenia and start posing the following question to themselves: “What is next for us?”

Pashinyan and his team are like Uber, where the other political parties are like taxis. Uber entered to disrupt a market in which the existing players – taxis – had rejected opportunities to renew, to innovate over many stagnant decades. In fact, when change arrived at their door, taxi companies were initially in denial, even trying to legislatively ban Uber until realizing that what they needed to do was to reinvent themselves, or die.

In Armenian politics, the ‘taxi’ forces do have this opportunity. With Armenia’s new Constitution stipulating rules that mandate a ‘minimum 1/3rd Opposition’ as well as a ‘three-party/bloc (some want to increase to four) minimum’ within the National Assembly, the dominance of Pashinyan’s ticket will not mean they will be allowed to hold all seats within the Parliament, regardless of the results of the Elections. This is a good thing, because as Uber has shown with some of its conduct, not all who disrupt are perfect, and even the very best deserve competition.

The Lusavor Hayastan Party (led by Edmon Marukyan) and the Republic Party (led by Aram Sargsyan) – working together but increasingly lonely with the distance growing between themselves and Pashinyan – have done a decent job of inventing and reinventing themselves, respectively. They have thus secured a narrow slot in future political reckoning. The newly-established Sasna Tsrer Party seems to have also begun its attempt to pigeon-hole itself into what it has identified as a vacant West-leaning Armenian nationalist segment within the country’s political landscape.

The likes of the Prosperous Armenia Party (led by Gagik Tsarukyan), the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) and the Heritage Party (led by Raffi Hovannisian) are at a precarious crossroads. Those who survive the immediate future will be the ones who do not deny the reality that has arrived. The ones who will survive will be those who can stop moping around about the existing ‘populism’, and accept that they are the ones who need to change in order to remain relevant in this ‘New Armenia’.

And importantly, the Armenian people should want these and other competing parties to remain relevant, as their presence will only serve to establish and protect the democracy that the people fought for in the ‘Velvet Revolution’.

I have purposely left out the Republican Party of Armenia (RPA – former party of Serzh Sarkisian) and the Armenian National Congress (led by first President Levon Ter Petrosian) from the aforementioned list. The reason is that I think their time is up, and the talented people they undoubtedly possess among their ranks should look for new homes or new brands in order to fulfill their potential to publicly serve Armenia.

There are many who will suggest that the ARF should be added to this list of ‘has been’ political parties with no hope for resuscitation. This article will disagree with that, as I see a major role for the ARF in future democracy-building in Armenia. However, the party will have to face a prerequisite requirement to make the changes required in order to remain relevant.

The naysayers have amplified in volume after the ARF’s embarrassing result in the Yerevan City Elections – where the 128-year-old party, which brought nationhood to Armenia 100 years ago, achieved only 1.62% of the vote. I believe that the reduction of the ARF vote in the Yerevan City Elections – from 18,000 in 2009 to 5,887 in 2018 – is at least partially as a result of the public’s rejection of the party’s decision to serve in Coalitions with past RPA governments, despite the reasons the party has articulated on many occasions. Further, the polls and current sentiment is a rejection of the ARF’s vocal support for the RPA’s leader, Serzh Sarkisian until he was forced into a resignation by the people’s movement.

If you agree that the party’s association with the RPA is a primary reason for existing angst against the ARF, then you agree that you are ranking the party low because of ‘policy’ rather than their ‘ideology’, their beliefs or their history. If other decisions had been made, or can be made, the ARF would have and can still have an important role in the establishment of a mature democracy in the New Armenia.

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has suggested he has no ideology, declaring during his May confirmation hearings to the National Assembly, that “the era for ‘-isms’ [e.g. socialism, communism, capitalism, etc] is over”. While this quote is cute, history shows it will not remain true, and a shrewd political operator like Pashinyan knows this. When he sets future economic policies, Pashinyan will reveal what ‘-ism’ or ‘-isms’ he and his surrounding folks stand for. There have already been a few hints to this end, and there will be more as time passes and decisions are made.

This is where Armenia needs a renewed ARF. An ARF that is the pride of its traditional, center-left, democratic socialist base. An ARF uniquely strengthened by its multinational presence in over 30 countries, with the tens of thousands of members in its and its associated organizations able to serve as a great resource for the New Armenia. As previously stated, the party’s perceived movement away from their core beliefs – by partnering with a clearly right-wing, oligarch-backed Serzh Sarkisian and RPA – has harmed its public standing to a great degree.

Therefore when the ARF asks “what’s next for us?”, they must answer “a return to our roots”. Armenia needs a party that has policies focused most specifically on workers and small businesses, but also on women’s and minority rights, while staying true to Artsakh and a United Armenia. The ARF can fulfil this role better than anyone in Armenia, as no other political entity is set in its ideology and its roots like the ARF.

If this happens, it will force Pashinyan’s Civil Contract Party and other parties in Armenia’s scene to start taking positions on the key policies being presented. This will reveal where the government stands on key issues, where the Opposition stands, who the ‘third’, ‘cross-parties’ or ‘independents’ are, and this process will mature political debate and democracy in Armenia.

Barring major developments, Pashinyan and Civil Contract will probably win the next few Parliamentary elections, but the establishment of mature polity in Armenia will draw a map for the public, who will know they have choices for when they want them. Giving them these choices is what democracy is about. It is what the ARF must be focused on as it looks at itself in the mirror.

If the party re-aligns, it will need to do so with the understanding that much damage has already been done to its brand for reasons already stated. To revamp the brand and to return supporters to it, the ARF might need to acknowledge its mistakes during a period that has been emphatically rejected by the Armenian public. Admitting to its errors, renewing and refocusing can begin the ARF’s ‘12 steps’ towards electoral rehabilitation. Every party makes mistakes, but only a big party with a proud history and stringent processes like the ARF can muster the courage to review and revamp.

This renewed ARF needs to lead the way with their center-left policies fighting for gender equality, pensions for the elderly and the unemployed, tax policies benefiting small business and breaking up monopolies. They need to be arguing for Medicare-type social policies, interest-free tertiary education loans, a war on poverty, preservation of freedom of speech, protection of human rights and the environment, establishment of retirement benefits, and of course, workers’ rights.

This renewed ARF can help build democracy in Armenia.

Authors

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14 Comments

  1. AD said:

    “Renewed ARF”? What a joke. A completely LOSER ARF cannot hide under a mask of a “renewal”. A sad fact is that ARF is a total loser and capitulated under today’s political realities in Armenia. So far about a party that intends to “build democracy in Armenia” (seriously, dashnak comrades, are you on drugs to mumble such a pervasive stupidity or lie). Your inability to take decisive action(s) and your gutlessness, next to treason, will be remembered and judged by the history. You too, will be accountable for the bloody horizons that are unfolding in front of poor, naive, and politically ignorant Armenian people, unless… the train is still at the station; and there is still time to act. Tomorrow it will be gone. Or are you traitors and/or liars to pretend you do not smell the blood, a lot of blood, that will be spilled soon?

    • Haig Derbedrossian said:

      AD you must be one of those “poor,naive,and politically ignorant” to come up with such a comment,because you show your complete ignorance about the essence of the ARF.You STUPID what blood are you talking about?

  2. Ara Keshishian said:

    It is astonishing how out of touch ARF supporters continue to be. The ARF is dead in Armenian politics. Sasna Tsrer owns the nationalist vote and has better credentials to wear that mantle than corrupt ARF bureaucrats.

    Furthermore, reading a bunch of LA-based diasporans wax poetic about the need for the ARF to rebrand as Social Justice Warriors and save Armenia from the locals is comical beyond belief. Armenia has some social problems to overcome, but the people aren’t ever going to welcome western leftist social issues into the nation’s political discourse. No one wants or needs the help of armchair activists born and raised in the Mecca of degeneracy who arrogantly presume to lecture down to the locals with their faddish opinions.

  3. Antranik Jarchafjian said:

    In democratic countries, one often observes that when a party is trounced in elections, the leadership of that party accepts responsibility for the failure and resigns.
    I wonder if the author expects something similar for the ARF or as he avoids mentioning anything about the party’s leadership does he expect the same people who have led the party for the past decades to stay on AND make the changes he advocates.
    As I read the article I had a feeling that the author was dancing around the elephant in the room not wanting to say anything about it.

    What gives?

  4. barseghian said:

    Ge vorpam as iraganoutian. Ayo loudzarer iev vera gazmagerber bachbanelov himnavor dzaraoutioun, MECHAG PANVOR

  5. Raffi said:

    I agree with the author and the comments. ARF is no longer the party representing the People of Armenia. They have been out of touch for the past 30 years. They still have not embraced the Pashinyan government and instead they keep sabotaging his government. ARF is all talk no action. As a former ARF supporter, I am extremely disappointed how they handled the velvet revolution by siding with corrupt RPA and supporting Serj Sarkisian. What a shame!

  6. Aha said:

    Positive and well meaning piece. I agree with the recurring suggestion that the ARF should try to fill the void of the classic left in Armenian politics and ideally go through a rejuvenation.

    To be honest though, and this will be unpleasant for most to read, I don’t think that the ARF made a mistake by helping Sargsyan and Kocharyan. That was the Armenia of that generation and ARF thus served the Armenia there was not eh Armenia that should have been. Its priority was the stability of the country and the avoidance of war through the preservation of a military balance with its enemy. As to how much this was succesful, history will give its verdict later on.

      • Raffi said:

        Including being on the side of corruption, money laundering and killers? The country was more stable than ever before with Pashinyan’s velvet revolution. The world has not seen anything like that in recent history. We did not need the ARF for stability. We needed the ARF to embrace the new government rather than sabotage it. ARF does not understand or even appreciate the meaning of the word Leadership, because they are unable to lead. ARF needs to reinvent itself just like for-profit organizations do. Otherwise they will be obsolete as the current voting numbers demonstrate.

        • Aha said:

          In an ideal world they would not be on the side of corruption/money/killers, in the real world things are more complicated. Any former head of state/majority party who has lead during war or in a time of intense geopolitical tensions – and Armenia was in hot and cold wars since independence – would tell you leadership is mostly grey in such a context, not black and white or pure, or the kind it is in Iceland or Denmark, I suppose: Ask the American leaders from cold war times, ask Italy’s Christian Democrats and Giulio Andreotti who lead a G7 country during the extremely tense period of the 70s-80s, ask the Chilean leadership and Pinochet how much blood they have on their hands because 2 superpowers were playing a 0 sum game, and finally ask Kanye and Jay-Z about the meaning of their song ‘No Church in the Wild’.

          That the ARF has internal issues (ex. tensions between de facto leader H.M. and the younger crew) is quite evident, but that it did the right thing by not fomenting revolutions and took an evolutionary bet on the gradually increasing maturity of the younger HHK or the ideologically leaning nationalist HHK, was right in my view.

          One thing ARF could do though, is to drop ‘revolutionary’ from its name, replace it with ‘progressive’ or ‘evolutionary’, and take the left curve it always wanted to take but had postponed because of not ‘having’ a country. The country is here now and its time to play ‘classic’ politics, at least in Armenia 😉

          • Raffi said:

            You don’t need an ideal world to know whether to support corruption or not. ARF as a party has decided to be part of that corruption from day one of Armenia’s independence. I agree with Viken’s comments that the ARF is more concerned about the Party itself than the Armenian people. Pashinyan has been an advocate against corruption for a decade and the ARF never stood by his side. The ARF does not deliver anything tangible to the Armenian people in Armenia and abroad, just contrary to other non-ARF friendly organizations such as AGBU. They just work quietly to delver tangible results such as Tumo Center in Armenia which has been visited by many dignitaries. ARF does not even come close to having a vision of that sort, because intellectual thinking and thinking outside of the box is forbidden among the ranks of the ARF. ARF is a command/control organization with intimidation and not inspiration as its management style.

  7. Viken said:

    I agree with your suggestion that ARF needs to go back to their roots. But their problem nowadays is that they put their party ahead over the nation’s and the
    armenians. They lost thousand of supporters and they will continue to do so till they make a drastic change.

  8. Madlene said:

    A part of my identity was formed at AYF camp, have many ARF friends and family, and know about the party’s contribution to history and the Diaspora. I have a soft spot for the party as a result.

    This is why seeing this party at work in Armenia over the last two decades has been devastating. The article is hopeful, but as stated in the comments above – it fails to address the elephant in the room- the leadership. I applaud the writer for calling out the blatant straying from ideology – but this shows off a big wound and healing is a long road ahead.

    You don’t need a renewal, you need a revolution. A renewal is not going to happen with the current leadership. A renewal with the same players is also not going to pass with Armenia’s public. You don’t need a renewal- you need surgery- then chemo.

    For the sake of the party- you need more individuals like this author speaking out. I am happy to see this happening in Asbarez and I am hopeful that this conversation will continue to action – for the sake of the ARF and it’s histpry… and it’s future.

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