News / Europe

Democracy Making Strides in Former Soviet Armenia

Democracy Making Strides in Former Soviet Armeniai
X
March 02, 2013 4:20 AM
Twenty-one years after gaining independence from the Soviet Union, Armenia may be coming of age. It is developing a more open society, and even a messy democracy. This is clear after the February 18 presidential election - won by incumbent Serzh Sargsyan - as VOA correspondent Jim Brooke reports from Yerevan.
TEXT SIZE - +
— Twenty-one years after gaining independence from the Soviet Union, Armenia may be coming of age. It is developing a more open society, and even a messy democracy. This is clear after the February 18 presidential election - won by incumbent Serzh Sargsyan.

Armenian opposition presidential candidate Raffi Hovhannisyan claimed victory - even though he lost the election. “For the first time in 20 years the citizens have said yes to our constitution, yes to the rule of law, yes to democracy in our future,” he said.

Hovhannisyan has been joined in protesting the results by Andreas Gukasyan, a candidate who spent the election campaign on a hunger strike. He said he went on strike to protest what he calls Armenia’s rigged elections.

  • Campaign posters were few and largely limited to official spaces in Yerevan, Armenia, Feb. 16, 2013. (V. Undritz/VOA)
  • Presidential candidate and owner of a private radio station Andreas Gukasyan spent the one month long campaign period on a hunger strike, living in a tent in front of the National Academy of Sciences, Yerevan, Armenia, Feb. 16, 2013. (V. Undritz/VOA)
  • Andreas Gukasyan charged that elections in post-Soviet Armenia are controlled by the president of the day, buying votes and ordering government employees to turn out the vote for official candidates, Yerevan, Armenia, Feb. 16, 2013. (V. Undritz/VOA)
  • California-born Raffi Hovhannisyan also embarked on a presidential campaign across Armenia, Yerevan, Armenia, Feb. 16, 2013. (V. Undritz/VOA)
  • Supporters respond to Hovhannisyan and Armenian rappers at a final pre-election rally in Yerevan, Armenia, Feb. 16, 2013. (V. Undritz/VOA)
  • Armenia's President Serzh Sargsyan talks to reporters after voting in Yerevan. (V. Undritz/VOA)
  • Protesters gathered on Yerevan's Freedom Square the day that the official results were announced: 59 percent for President Serzh Sergsyan, 37 percent for Hovhannisyan, Feb. 20, 2013. (V. Undritz/VOA)
  • Protesters at Yerevan's Freedom Square the day that official results were announced, Feb. 20, 2013. (V. Undritz/VOA)
  • Serzh Sergsyan has promised to obey Armenia's presidential term limits and step down in 2018 when his second term ends. (V. Undritz/VOA)

Deadly past election

Five years ago, post-election protests in the capital, Yerevan, ended with 10 dead in the streets. This time, police and protesters are following a peaceful path. Some see a new spirit of openness that is nurturing democracy.

Richard Giragosian, who runs a think tank in Yerevan, said, “In a general sense, I’m optimistic in the trend now present in Armenia in terms of democratization, more of an orientation Westward.”

When Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan cast his ballot on February 18, he knew the opposition would not win only three percent of the vote - as in some other former Soviet republics. He did get reelected, but with just 59 percent of the vote.

Making progress

Opposition supporters rallied to the California-born Hovhannisyan, who was Armenia’s first foreign minister after independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. He won 37 percent of the vote, twice the amount forecast by polls before the election.

“We are into now our 22nd year of independence, and we have never ever had a transition of authority through free and fair elections. It’s about time that Armenia take the initiative and return democracy, the rule of law, and civil rights to the people of Armenia,” said Hovhannisyan.

Almost 7,000 foreign and Armenian observers watched the voting.

Karin Woldseth, head of a European parliamentary delegation, gave a qualified approval to the vote.

“We have noted deep progress in many areas, such as the media environment, legal framework, freedom of assembly, and freedom of speech,” she said.

Vibrant opposition

As she spoke, protesters interrupted the news conference. They said the European observers were “political tourists” rubber-stamping a fraudulent election.

“They announce that we are one step forward, that we had transparent elections, but it’s a lie.  Because our observers are in those stations all day, they are being violated, abused.  Their observers are going there for just 15 minutes,” said one protester, Mamikon Hovsepyan:

Since the vote, Hovhannisyan has been touring this mountainous nation, leading protest rallies, and working to unify the political opposition.

“I am committed to bring, with the people of Armenia, a bloodless transfer of power.  And I am sure that in five years we will have the first free and fair elections in Armenia,” said Hovhannisyan.

 Democracy - disorderly, unpredictable, and with citizen participation - seems to be brewing in post-Soviet Armenia.

James Brooke

A foreign correspondent who has reported from five continents, Brooke, known universally as Jim, is the Voice of America bureau chief for Russia and former Soviet Union countries. From his base in Moscow, Jim roams Russia and Russia’s southern neighbors.

You May Like

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Hagop from: Los Angeles, Ca.
March 03, 2013 8:47 PM
Raffi Hovannisian may be American-born and -educated (indeed, he is a UCLA and Tufts graduate) but his foreign policy will not be to the West's liking. Nor to Russia's, for that matter. One of his promises is that, once in power, he will recognize the Nagorno-Karabagh Republic as an independent state, which will upset Azerbaijan and the West's "interests" in the region (Azerbaijan's petrol and pipelines).

This is why President Obama, Secretary Kerry, and even Turkish president Abdullah Gül have congratulated the incumbent Serzh Sargsyan.


by: Sam from: Yerevan, Armenia
March 02, 2013 11:38 AM
Ballot stuffing, disappearing ink used on passport stamps enabling multiple votes by the same person, disqualifying all 700,000 citizens living outside the country from voting, but printing & depositing their ballots pre-filled. The votes of whole villages bought by the mayor - a Republican beneficiary - who then individually met and inspected the ballot of each voter prior to casting - this technique was repeated all over the country


by: Sam from: Yerevan, Armenia
March 02, 2013 7:28 AM
As a Westerner living in Armenia, I have not yet met anyone who voted for the incumbent. The sadness and resignation to the status quo is evident in the faces of the ordinary people. One question: Why were scores of OSCE monitors witnessed to be partying, drinking beer and wine, during the elction instead of being at their stations?

In Response

by: arthur
March 02, 2013 8:47 AM
I know more than 100 people in Armenia. Not single one voted for the incumbent one. Wher did he get his 58 % from god knows.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid