BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN
It is the last day of campaigning for Sunday’s snap parliamentary elections in Armenia. Representatives of the 21 political parties and four election alliances have one last chance to make their pitch to the voters before observing what is known as a “day of silence” on Saturday ahead of the vote.
As has been the case with previous elections, this week election observers from the OSCE/ODIHR, Council of Europe, Russia and other countries have converged on Armenia to monitor the vote and evaluate whether the elections are free, fair and democratic.
The similarities with past elections end there since Sunday’s elections are the most consequential Armenia has seen since its independence in 1991 as they are taking place in the aftermath of last fall’s Artsakh war and the devastating losses our homeland and our Nation suffered as a result of it.
Sunday’s elections are taking place at a time when Armenia’s sovereignty is in jeopardy and its very existence is threatened. Because of the November 9 agreement, Artsakh has been reduced to a fraction of its size; Ankara has a foothold in Agdam along the tenuous line-of-contact with Artsakh; 1,000 Azerbaijani troops are camped out in Armenia’s Syunik and Gegharkunik provinces; more than 200 prisoners of war and captives are being held illegally and tortured by the Baku regime; and just this week Turkey’s president visited the ancient Armenian capital of Shushi where he made not so veiled threats against Armenia’s territorial integrity.
Each and every voter in Armenia suffered through the consequences of the 44-day war that has given way to an election landscape fraught with hatred and enmity since the leader under whose watch we lost Artsakh and are losing portions of Armenia refused to step aside and is carrying out a belligerent assault on his opponents with reckless disregard toward the dignity of the voters.
Sunday’s elections will also bring an unusual face-off between Armenia’s three former presidents, who are leading alliances and the current prime minister, who outright rejects the notion that he had any responsibility in the outcome of the war.
All candidates are campaigning under the banner of democracy, but the aforementioned four individuals have had a less than stellar grasp of the concept.
Armenia’s first president Levon Ter-Petrosian famously deployed tanks and the army into the streets of Yerevan during the 1996 presidential elections, surrounding and trapping the presumptive winner in the parliament compound. The two who succeeded him—Robert Kocharian and Serzh Sarkisian—turned vote-rigging, voter intimidation and vote-buying into an art form. For his turn Pashinyan squandered the trust that the voters placed in him during the December, 2018 parliamentary elections by acting like he had won a popularity contest and not a mandate to lead a country at war.
These proclivities naturally spilled into their campaigns.
This past week alone we witnessed an unhinged Pashinyan brandishing a hammer during his campaign stops and threatening to “throw on the ground” and “bang against the wall” opposition supporters and repeating his often used warning of “making them lie on asphalt.” He also continued his divisive campaign against the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, saying those ARF members who do not vote for him might as well burn the flag of their own party.
Pashinyan’s out of control behavior prompted Kocharian to challenge the prime minister to a duel, while Sarkisian threatened to beat him with over the head with a baton.
Let’s not forget the enormous resources—state and private—expended on the elaborate campaign gatherings and advertising at a time when Armenia’s economy, which was already reeling due the coronavirus pandemic, suffered another blow as a result of the war.
All this leaves the lay Armenian voter in an extraordinary conundrum of having to sift through the rhetoric of the campaigns while looking through the fog of war. It is my hope that each and every registered Armenian voter will go to the polls on Sunday and will cast their ballots based on their conscience and will not squander their vote.
Thus, it is critically important that democratic norms prevail in Sunday’s elections. This means that after all the ballots are cast, votes are counted and results are announced, the winners will take their place in the country’s leadership and those who do not receive the requisite percentage of the votes to be included in the parliament will step aside and allow a government to be formed.
If these norms, in any way or form, are trampled upon, any semblance of a future for our country will be threatened.