Opposition Parties in Armenia

After over twenty-five years of independence, the opposition Political Parties (Parties) hardly exist in Armenia. A quick google search shows more than two dozen “Political Parties” with many “fancy” names that include, Christian-Democrats, Social Democrats Free Democrats, etc. They are more like “private clubs” and none is well organized to hold the government accountable.

At the last parliamentary elections in April 2017 more than ten Parties participated in the election and only three Parties and one Alliance (Դաշինք) cleared the required minimum threshold to enter the parliament that has 105 members. Here is the list.

The governing Republican Party of Armenia (RPA), has 58 seats (an absolute majority), Prosperous Armenia Party (PAP), 31 seats, YELK Alliance (an alliance of three Parties), 9 seats, and ARF (Tashnagtsootyun) Party, 7 seats. Maybe here it will be appropriate to say a few words about these Parties.

The best organized and most successful Party is the RPA. It was founded in 1990. The first and founding president was Ashot Navasardyan, (a dissident of the soviet times). After his death in 1997, he was succeeded by Antranig Margaryan, (another dissident and co-founder of the Party). He became the Prime Minister in President Kocharian’s administration in 2000 and passed away in 2007. He was succeeded by Serj Sargsyan the current President of Armenia.

Eduard Sharmazanov, the young and assertive spokesperson of RPA, (who is also the vice president of the Armenian Parliament), at a press conference, said the following. “The Republican Party is conservative, if you expect it to become Liberal or Social Democrat [I can assure you that] such thing will never happen”. (News.am 03-11-2016)

They are staunch proponents of “trickle-down” economic policies that have resulted in concentrating the wealth, and the power, of the country in the hands of a few Armenian oligarchs that are perceived to be well connected to the Russian and Iranian oligarchies.

PAP, headed by oligarch Gagig Dzarugyan, is as conservative as the RPA, both, ideologically, and in practice, and cannot be considered to be an opposition party. At best, it is a rich man’s “club”, or Gagig Dzarugyan’s “private” rich man’s club.

ARF, which claims to be a Socialist Party and takes pride in being a member of the anachronistic “Socialist International”, is anything but Socialist. At best it is Socialist by words only. They hardly act as defenders of the rights of the workers or work to improve the socio-economic conditions of the people living in Armenia.

Worst yet, as an unnecessary  “junior partner” in the current majority government, ARF, is more of an obedient “cheerleader” (especially its leadership) for the corrupt RPA administration, than an opposition Party.

That leaves only YELK to fill the gap as an opposition party. As I said earlier YELK is an Alliance of three small Parties without any track record of ideological distinctions. So far, they have managed to portray the image of vocal opposition to the current government.

With only 9 MP, YELK’s ability to be more than a vocal opponent is fairly limited. The Party could be more effective if the three Parties were merged and created a “left-leaning” Liberal Party to oppose the governing right-wing and Conservative RPA. (When I say “left-leaning Liberal Party” I mean not only in name but with a true liberal ideology, both, in words and deeds “բանիւ եւ գործով”).

YELK, (as a united Political Party), could start the long road to becoming a credible opposition by presenting practical alternative policies based on the real socio-economic needs,  the “bread and butter” issues of the people, the citizens of the country.
It is not enough to talk in general terms and pay lip service to the corruption, oligarchic monopolies, tax evasion, favoritism, etc. (Everyone seems to be doing just that, including the high ranking RPA leadership while nobody doing anything about it).
It is necessary to factually expose the RPA leadership’s connections to monopolist oligarchs and the personal benefits they gain. Expose the rigged privatization process of the state-owned enterprises that benefit only the monopolistic oligarchs.
It is also important to be with, and support, NGOs, civic organizations, and their issues. Take part in their public meetings and especially be vocal about their issues in the parliament. Most importantly, it is necessary to start getting organized and have branches in every region of the country, etc.
I know it is a tall order that could be achieved only through hard work and persistence. It will be a long and gradual process to help convince the electorate that regime change is possible through the electoral system. It is long overdue, in fact, it is 25 years long overdue.
Is YELK ready for the challenge?. If their past activities are of any indication, I have my doubts. I hope they will prove me wrong.
Zohrab Bebo Sarkissian

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