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.
James Brooke
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.

You May Like

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. More

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

Dropout rate at an all-time high in South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during 3-year civil war More

Tennessee Songbirds Fly Coop Long Before Tornadoes Arrive

Researchers say birds apparently alerted to danger by sounds at frequencies below range of human hearing 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.
US: Response to Sony Hack Will Be Proportionali
X
Aru Pande
December 19, 2014 1:45 AM
The White House says President Barack Obama considers the cyberattack on Sony Corp. a serious national security matter and that the U.S. will counter with an "appropriate response." VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video US: Response to Sony Hack Will Be Proportional

The White House says President Barack Obama considers the cyberattack on Sony Corp. a serious national security matter and that the U.S. will counter with an "appropriate response." VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid