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Armenia - Political Parties

Armenia’s constitution allows for a multi-party democratic system. The Republican Party of Armenia is the dominant party in the national government and controls the majority of posts in the national and local governments. In the National Assembly (Azgayin Zhoghov), 90 members are elected through a closed-list proportional representation system to serve 5-year terms and 41 members are elected by plurality vote in single-member constituencies to serve 5-year terms. There have been more than a hundred parties since independence, although only a dozen or so have had electoral success. The environment is polarized with parties self-identifying as “pro-government” or “opposition.” Many in the opposition believe the electoral process is closed to all but government allies, and “nonconstitutional methods” were seen as the only means to democratic reform.

In May 2003, parliamentary elections and a referendum on constitutional amendments were held. Seventeen parties and four electoral blocs contested the 75 proportional seats. Six of these passed the 5 percent national threshold requirement and won seats, including the Justice Alliance, an electoral bloc of nine opposition parties headed by Stepan Demirchian. The elections were seriously marred with observers reporting irregularities that included partisan election commissions, vote buying, ballot box stuffing, and numerous discrepancies in the vote count. The elections gave the pro-government parties a strong majority in Parliament. The two main opposition forces, the Justice Alliance and the National Unity Party (Artashes Geghamian), won 24 out of a total of 131 seats.

In June 2003, three of the parties elected to Parliament—the Republican Party, the Country of Law Party (Orinats Yerkir), and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaks)—agreed to form a coalition government. As part of the agreement, they divided the ministerial positions between themselves. This and the fact that opposition parties felt the elections results had cheated them of their actual number of seats led to an immediate parliamentary boycott by the Justice Bloc and National Unity Party.

Political parties represented in the National Assembly [after the 2008 election] included the Republican Party of Armenia, Prosperous Armenia, Armenian Revolutionary Federation Dashnaktsutyun (ARF), Country of Law (Orinats Yerkir), and the Heritage Party. Other political parties and movements include: the Armenian National Congress, People's Party of Armenia, Free Democrats Party, Republic Party, Armenian National Movement, and dozens of other registered parties, many of which become active only during national campaigns, if at all.

In the Parliamentary election held May 6, 2012, President Serzh Sargsyan's Republican Party of Armenia [Hayastani Hanrapetakan Kusaktsutyun (HHK)] received 664,266 votes, 43.73% of the votes cast, wining 69 seats. The Prosperous Armenia Party [Bargavadj Hayastan Kusaktsutyun (BHK)] received 454,671 votes, 29.93% of the votes cast, wining 37 seats; Armenian Revolutionary Federation Dashnaktsutyun [Hay Heghapokhagan Tashnagtsutiun, (HYD) received 85,544 5.63% of the votes cast, wining 5 seats; Rule of Law [Orinats Erkir (OEK)] received 83,123 votes, 5.47% of the votes cast, wining 6 seats; Heritage [Zharangutyun] received 86,993 votes, 5.73% of the votes cast, wining 5 seats; and Armenian National Congress (ANC) [Hay Azgayin Kongres (HAK)] received 106,901 votes, 7.04% of the votes cast, wining 7 seats.

Political parties are fractured and personality-based. Individuals use the parties as tools to gain power and do little with them to aggregate public interest. Parties arrange themselves along an ideological spectrum but, with the exception of a few mainly historical parties, their ideologies do not coherently relate to substantive distinctions or serve as a rationale for party loyalty. Party structures are hierarchical, and national party leadership is disconnected from the average citizen.

The questionable 2003 elections still affect the political atmosphere and shape party strategies. The opposition sees the President and Parliament as illegally elected, and is thus boycotting the governing body. They view the electoral machinery as being under the government’s control and most opposition party leaders say the only way forward is to remove the “illegal” government through a “velvet revolution.”

Most party structures are adaptations of the Soviet model. They are top-down, hierarchical organizations that tend to be run like military organizations. The quality of membership is valued over quantity, and some parties admit to purging members who have made mistakes. There is little room for internal debate, and personal disagreements between leaders often result in party splits and a proliferation of small parties. Developed political parties with a sizable number of members usually have a pyramid structure, with power concentrated at the top and decisions handed down to the lower party levels. The party chairperson is usually the single most important figure. Most parties are managed by a board and led by the chairman and policy is adopted by a party congress which meets every one to two years. Leadership and organizational structures are somewhat more developed among the historical parties and among some of the independence-era parties. The newer parties tend to be smaller and place less emphasis on party structures, outreach, or membership. There are exceptions such as the Country of Law Party that has created a detailed organizational structure with functional departments.

Parties are not developed in a democratic sense nor do they compete on an even playing field. Although the legal framework is generally adequate for multi-party competition, it is not enforced. The judiciary is also not independent so, for all intents and purposes, there is no legal remedy for a wronged party. Access to the electronic media, in particular television, is severely hampered for parties without links to the executive. One of the main impediments facing political parties, as identified by the opposition and some of the progovernmental parties, was the government “administration” and its practices. In addition, opposition parties face critical constraints in raising operating funds because of the incestuous relationships between the government, ruling parties, and big business. This has also resulted in the practice of “oligarchs” being elected into Parliament, reportedly for the purpose of gaining parliamentarian immunity for corrupt business practices.

Parties and blocs with representatives in Parliament are organized into factions that receive administrative support for such things as legislative drafting. It appears that this support will assist with the internal development of several factions in terms of their ability to draft legislation (even among the boycotting opposition).

The current political environment is not conducive to the development of a pluralistic, competitive, democratic, or accountable political party system. Autocratic systems and mentalities are firmly entrenched within the parties as well as within the government. Despite the proliferation of parties, no party fulfills the fundamental roles of aggregating the public’s interest, offering policy alternatives, or organizing meaningful debate over public concerns. The absence of functioning checks and balances has enabled the executive branch to continue its domination of political and economic life. In addition, the mutually supportive relationship between oligarchs and government has contributed to the zero-sum political game. The government’s primary interest is in remaining in power, and the opposition’s primary interest is in replacing the government and seizing power.

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Page last modified: 27-03-2013 13:31:30 ZULU