BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN
The snap parliamentary elections have been tumultuous. A lot has been written and said about the candidates in these elections as to who should lead Armenia in light of the recent devastating war, dismal condition of the people, and threats against the territorial integrity of Armenia and Artsakh.
Nikol Pashinyan came to power three years ago. The overwhelming majority of the Armenian people, both in Armenia and the Diaspora, fervently welcomed him, reacting to their dislike of the former leaders. However, Pashinyan did not justify the people’s enthusiastic support and their expectations. Many were disappointed with his inept performance both during and before the war. Even then, the antagonism for the former leaders was so intense and the prospect of their returning to power was so feared that most voters either stayed out of the election or voted for Pashinyan. What was really surprising is not so much Pashinyan’s landslide victory, winning almost 54% of the votes cast, but the fact that the coalition led by former Pres. Robert Kocharian was able to receive as high as 21% of the votes.
Nevertheless, the people in Armenia have spoken. We should respect their choice whether we agree with them or not. Diaspora Armenians do not have a vote in Armenia’s elections. Not even the citizens of Armenia who live outside the country can vote unless they go back home on Election Day. So, this is a choice made by those who live on the ground in Armenia. They will rightly bear the immediate impact of their choices, good or bad. In my opinion, Pashinyan does not possess the ability to lead a country with so many problems. Rather than finding solutions, he has regrettably made matters worse by his own incompetence and that of his advisors and ministers.
Regrettably, a lot of violent, vile, hateful and insulting words were said during the campaign, particularly by Prime Minister Pashinyan. It was unbelievable that he would wave a hammer during the campaign speeches and threaten to use it on his opponents after the election. He repeatedly threatened to lay them on the asphalt and plaster them to the wall! Those are words that no self-respecting leader should use in addressing his people, whether they support him or not. Pashinyan also told the people repeatedly that he will change his previously-described “velvet revolution” to a “steel revolution.” It is amazing to me that a man who came to power preaching tolerance and advocating democratic principles has turned into a tyrant who is threatening violence towards his own political opponents. Such hostile language is more appropriate to be used against Armenia’s foreign enemies.
I just hope that after suffering from the violence of our enemies, Armenians do not resort to commit violence on one another due to political disagreements. There should be a civilized discourse and polite expression of opinions.
The other strange phenomenon we encountered is the government’s announcement prior to the election that there were 2,578,678 eligible voters. This is a very strange figure given the fact that the country’s population is around 2.9 million. If one subtracts the 700,000 youngsters under the age of 18 who cannot vote, the number of the eligible voters should be much less than the announced figure. The only valid explanation is that hundreds of thousands of Armenians who permanently left the country many years ago are still registered as voters. The inflated number of eligible voters is the reason that the election results wrongly show that a little less than 50% of them voted. It is high time that the government update its voting registers to eliminate the large number of people who have left the country for good. Since voters need to have a domestic address, those who have moved out of the country should no longer be eligible to vote. Furthermore, cleansing the voting registers would eliminate election fraud as locals would be unable to vote for those who have left the country, as it has happened in the past.
As expected, there were a lot of accusations of voter fraud resulting in the losing sides rejecting to accept the outcome of the election. We need to wait for the courts to make their determination before we jump to any conclusions.
Pashinyan’s opponents had urged him to leave office and not let his government oversee the elections, fearing an undue influence over the electoral process. However, Pashinyan refused to do so and remained as a caretaker Prime Minister. As a result, he committed two serious violations even before the first vote was cast. He started campaigning several weeks before the legally authorized start of the campaign and used the resources of the government during his campaign trips, which is also illegal.
A sharply divided nation before the election became even more split after the election. Rather than advancing democracy in the country, successive elections have caused more instability in the country distancing Armenia further from any semblance of a democratic country. There is so much hatred among Armenians that one does not have to worry about Armenia’s enemies. Regrettably, Armenians have become their own worst enemy. It is incumbent on all Armenians, regardless of their political preferences, to lower the degree of hostility, especially in social media, and learn to express their disagreements without being rude and hostile. The onus is on the leader of the country to set an example of tolerance and urge everyone to be more civilized towards one another, instead of inflaming the passions and using threatening language. After all, we are all the sons and daughters of the same nation and we should put our collective interests and the survival of the nation ahead of any other issue.
Now that two parliamentary opposition groups are about to occupy one third of the seats in the Armenian Parliament, the discussions and disputes, no matter how sharp, should be transferred from the street to the halls of the legislature.
Finally, regardless of whom we supported in the elections, we should not lose sight of the fact that the people of Armenia and Artsakh are in a destitute situation, particularly after the recent war, and we should do whatever we can to support them. We should also try to help our leaders, even if we disagree with them. I hope, in return, Armenia’s leaders will welcome our extended hand and be willing to listen to the advice offered to them. We wish our people the best and pledge to do everything in our power to stand by them so they do not think they are abandoned to their tragic fate.