BY MARIA TITIZIAN
There are eight men running for the coveted office of the president. The Central Electoral Commission is a hub of activity, campaign slogans have been determined, billboards are up, and television advertisements are being aired, yet there’s very little discussion about the policy platforms of the candidates and there is even less excitement or buzz in the country. There are no scheduled presidential debates. In fact, debates are not part of the political culture in Armenia; the only one that ever took place was during the 2003 presidential campaign when Robert Kocharian and Stepan Demirchyan faced off.
For most Armenians, the outcome of this presidential campaign is obvious, predetermined, therefore a political farce, simple hyperbole. Some of the candidates are presumably taking it very seriously, believing without any factual evidence (I have yet to see any polls) or grassroots support that they’re going to change the political paradigm. Although it is not clear how they intend to do this when one of them is staging a hunger strike, others are promising to go on a hunger strike, some are threatening to withdraw and others are actually withdrawing their candidacy. Some political forces and segments of society are calling for a general boycott of the elections, while others are telling voters to voice their protest by invalidating the ballot on Election Day. None of the opposition parties in the National Assembly (Armenian Revolutionary Federation, Armenian National Congress, and Prosperous Armenia) are taking part in the presidential elections nor have they endorsed any registered candidate. Time will tell whether this decision was politically astute. The Rule of Law Party, in coalition with the ruling Republican Party, is obviously endorsing President Serge Sarkisian.
Of the candidates, none are talking about specific policy issues, about their vision for the country, about their strategy to put the economy on a track that would help ensure domestic production, create jobs and security and instill hope in the future of the country. We don’t know their position on national security, foreign policy, about migration or environmental issues with the exception of one candidate but his electioneering tactics are getter greater air time, drowning out ideas and debates. Indeed, the biggest issue so far of the presidential campaign is how Raffi Hovhanessyan is running an overly “Western” style campaign, something which has led to much discussion, writing of opinion pieces and ridiculous commentaries on Facebook pages, especially by members of the Republican Party, including Minister of Education Armen Ashotyan. Someone should remind Ashotyan that his responsibility is to ensure that future generations of Armenia receive quality education, one that would ensure their competitiveness and added value to sectors the current authorities have been trying to expand, with lack of vision and to no avail.
President Serge Sarkisian has begun crisscrossing the country meeting with voters, relying heavily upon oligarchs that have swelled the ranks of the Republican Party, his appointed Marzpets and the “administrative resources” at his disposal to ensure he can secure a respectable, if not stellar, percentage of ballots guaranteeing him a second term in office. Already there have been complaints, albeit not public, by those in the state apparatus (these include teachers, doctors, civil servants) about orders being handed down to vote for President Sarkisian or risk losing their jobs. And as conspiracy theories abound in our country, many people believe that some of the presidential candidates have been “placed” as such to give the appearance of a real race for the presidency, when in fact the outcome is painfully clear – a sure victory for the incumbent. People are even saying that some campaigns are being funded straight from the President’s office (this is not based on fact but rather on widespread hearsay). Others are disappointed because election bribes this time around will not be utilized to the extent they were in previous elections because there’s no real competition. Many registered voters made a tidy sum of money during the parliamentary elections in May 2012 no thanks to the disgraceful practice or “technologia” adopted by most political forces in the country of passing out bribes to entire households of voters (ranging from 5000-20,000 AMD/per voter), which has led to the decimation of democratic norms, values and principles. Everything in our country, from the exploitation of natural resources to elections is relegated to the rawest form of economic transactions with no regard for the consequences.
However, if this wasn’t enough to fill us with sorrow at the political reality in our country, some of the events of the past few days certainly will. One event in particular has come to define the mentality of persistent adulation or pseudo-leader worship by those in the entertainment industry (and not only) who are afraid of losing their star status and who compare a sitting president to a Biblical figure… At a rehearsal for a campaign event for Serge Sarkisian, well known celebrity Nazeni Hovhanissyan is charged with prepping hundreds of young Armenians for the President’s arrival. When attempting to get them to open up a path for the President to walk through she says, “Guys, imagine it is Moses coming through the Red Sea.” This statement has created an uproar in the country, in the media and in all circles of society. Comparing a sitting, unpopular president to a Biblical figure has sent the video on YouTube viral, to even Biblical proportions.
Whatever the results of this presidential campaign, one thing is strikingly clear; it will go down in Armenia’s history as the most uninspired, nonsensical elections. It painfully exemplifies the cynicism, the distrust and contempt of our people toward the office of the president, towards the democratic process and toward the political system. It seems the fight has gone out of us, that we are collapsing under the weight of irresponsible and reprehensible leadership. Young people in our country are crying out for revolution, for drastic measures, for change but they have yet to find the ingredients necessary for social mobilization that would produce a resulting power shift.
It continues to remain a mystery to me how the men in power in Armenia sleep at night. What do they think they will bequeath to their own children and grandchildren? A ravaged and empty plot of land? Is this how they would treat their families? We often hear these very leaders talk about how the Armenian family is the nucleus upon which this country will thrive, but how can it thrive when its resources are plundered, when it’s people are exhausted, hungry, disillusioned, when its structures aren’t sustained, when its education system is no longer competitive, when its people are sick and left to fend for themselves? Is this what they would do to their own children? Is this the legacy they want to leave? As they continue to wreak havoc on our country and pretend that it’s in our best interest, it is time to return the power to the people, it is time to stand shoulder to shoulder with the youth who are clamoring for change, perhaps the time is ripe to return to the streets but this time with a clear plan of action and with real leadership.