Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 111

Five other parties overcame the 5-percent threshold and gained representation in Armenia’s parliament. After the results of the races in single-mandate constituencies were added, the Communist Party led by Sergei Badalian ended up with ten seats, the Right and Accord bloc of Karabakh Defense Minister Samvel Babaian with seven, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaksutiun with eight, the Country of Law Party (sponsored by Armenia’s Internal Affairs and National Security Minister Serge Sarkisian) with six, and the right-of-center National-Democratic Union (led by the former prime minister and defense minister Vazgen Manukian) with six seats.

The Communist Party, in opposition to the government, advocates socialist economics and seeks to outbid the new party of power in terms of pro-Russian orientation. While supporting the government’s policy of military alliance with Russia, the communists urge Armenia’s accession to the Russia-Belarus Union and exclusive reliance on Russia to resolve the Karabakh conflict on terms favorable to Armenia. Mindful of Russia’s overall interests in the South Caucasus, however, the communists stop short of advocating the formal secession of Karabakh from Azerbaijan. The Communist Party denounces Demirchian as a traitor to the cause and competes with him and his People’s Party for the leftist vote.

Dashnaksutiun–the 100-year-old Armenian party, stronger in the world-wide diaspora than in the mother country–ran on its familiar ideological platform of nationalism and economic statism. The party’s organization in Armenia has not yet fully recovered from the persecution it suffered during Levon Ter-Petrosian’s presidency. Dashnaksutiun is now a conditional and sometimes grumbling ally of President Robert Kocharian, to whom it owes its new lease on life, but from whom it expects greater political support internally and a harder line against Turkey–for example, in pressing for international recognition of the 1915-1920 “genocide.”

Among the parties represented in the new parliament, the National-Democratic Union (NDU) is the sole advocate of free-market economics and of weaning Armenia from its one-sided reliance on Russia in foreign policy. The NDU, however, suffers from a loser’s image, which it acquired from its constant complaints about electoral fraud and other iniquities imputable to the authorities. Those complaints had been persuasive when party leader Manukian was cheated of victory in the 1996 presidential election, but NDU lost public support afterward by concentrating on its own grievances while failing to project itself to the electorate as a potential governing party. The NDU does not associate with economic mafia-type groups–a stance which redounds to the party’s moral credit but also weakens it in a country in which the major parties and the shadow economy intertwine.

The Right and Unity bloc and the Country of Law Party–along with the Republican Party–exemplify another type of interpenetration, that between the “force” ministries and the party system. That process developed during the pre-electoral period to an extent which marks Armenia as unique among post-Soviet countries. With the Armenian defense minister, the internal affairs and national security minister, and the Karabakh defense minister each unveiling political ambitions, espousing programs and sponsoring parties, democracy in Armenia has suffered a fresh reverse.

At the same time, the stage has been set for rivalry among these three forces. The earlier common front of the two Sarkisians (unrelated to each other) and Babaian has given way to a three-way split over conflicting personal and group interests. This rivalry seems likely to result in conspiratorial tactics and skullduggery–features which have marred Armenia’s recent political life, as seen in the series of unresolved assassinations of state officials, the misuse of the judiciary and the resort to intimidation of opponents. Elements of the “force” ministries are generally believed to have been involved in some of those processes. The ministries concerned, and their leaders, are now–for the first time–represented in the new parliament (Noyan-Tapan, Snark, Respublika Armeniya, June 4-8).