An opposition looking forward

It has been three weeks since the results of the May 12th parliamentary elections became clear bringing about a secure victory for the ruling Republican party. The Republicans gained a de-facto majority (with several independent businessmen affiliated with power circles filling the gap), only two opposition parties managed to get seats in parliament, one of them being considered very moderate and the other, a former ruling coalition party turned opposition, is seen by many as still being affiliated with the authorities.

Several opposition parties are challenging the election results in the Constitutional Court, however there is little expectation of the outcome being favorable for the opposition. And with public interest in the country’s politics falling back to usual after the election period many opposition leaders are switching their attention to next year’s presidential elections.

Prime Minister Serge Sargsyan declared that he will participate in the presidential elections, almost immediately after the parliamentary vote’s results came in. These results also suggest that if things stay as they are and the opposition fails to reshape itself, Mr. Sargsyan is a sure winner. Several opposition candidates have declared their participation in the 2008 vote, amongst them Vazgen Manukyan, widely considered the winner of the 1996 presidential elections, following which his supporters stormed the National Assembly.

As always the opposition is criticized for failing to unite. Indeed, if current trends continue possibly every single opposition leader will put up his candidacy for president. Still, it is not quite obvious which of the two options: participating under a united flag or going separately is a better choice. Opposition figures claim that since there will probably be a second round to the elections, they can first participate separately and then unite under the one candidate that makes it to the second round. In such a scenario the first round might serve as a sort of primaries for the opposition, which does not have anything close to a single leader. Besides that, uniting the opposition after an initial vote will be easier than in 2003, when there were parliamentary elections coming after the presidential race and some leaders chose not to unite, expecting to perform better alone. All of this might of course be undermined if the authorities manage to exploit the opposition’s fragmentation to finish the elections in one round.

Presidential elections in Armenia tend to attract noticeably more public attention than parliamentary ones and this plays favorably for the opposition. In the 2003 presidential race Stepan Demirchyan made it to the second round and managed to get quite a large number of votes, even though the public at large considered him an incompetent leader. Whatever the case, it seems that this summer is going to be a final respite before political activity in Armenia starts regaining momentum.

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