Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 111

Final returns of Armenia’s May 30 parliamentary elections confirm the victory of the Unity [Miasnutiun] bloc, which is composed of the Republican Party of Defense Minister Vazgen Sarkisian and the People’s Party of the long-time former leader of Soviet Armenia, Karen Demirchian (see the Monitor, May 28, June 4). The bloc obtained 41.6 percent of the votes cast, and thus twenty-nine parliamentary seats, in the proportional contest among party slates. In addition, the official Unity candidates won the races in at least twenty-eight out of seventy-five single-mandate constituencies, giving the bloc a total of at least fifty-seven seats in the 131-seat parliament. Furthermore, at least a dozen nominally independent candidates are in fact controlled by the Unity bloc, which thus gains an absolute (if narrow) majority in Armenia’s new parliament.

Unity campaigned on a left-of-center platform advocating more state intervention in (and control over) the economy and criticizing the policies recommended by international financial institutions. Although substantial sections of the populace seemed receptive to this type of message, Unity’s main sources of strength lie elsewhere. It owes its success, first, to the control exercised over local administrations by the Defense Ministry’s political network, as embodied in the Republican Party with the Yerkrapah (Country Defender) organization at its core. Second, the bloc capitalized on the personal popularity of Karen Demirchian, the Armenian Communist Party Central Committee First Secretary from 1974 to 1988, who is probably the top vote-getter in the country at the moment. Demirchian–and through him, indirectly, the Unity bloc–is the beneficiary of nostalgia among pauperized social groups for paternalist leadership and the relative prosperity enjoyed by Armenia during the Soviet period. Demirchian’s record suggests that he is “soft” on Karabakh, but this fact has not dented his popularity.

Having emerged as the new party of power even before the elections, Vazgen Sarkisian’s Republican Party was able to capitalize on the opportunism of Armenia’s political and bureaucratic class, which deserted in droves the Armenian Pan-National Movement to join the Defense Minister’s bandwagon. In the Unity bloc, the candidates and the elected deputies from the Republican Party far outnumber those of the Demirchian-led People’s Party; the lopsided ratio shows who is using whom in that bloc now (Noyan-Tapan, Snark, Respublika Armeniya, June 4-8).