News / Europe

Democracy Making Strides in Former Soviet Armenia

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

Kurdish Party Pushes Political Gamble to Run in Turkey Poll

HDP announces it will run as political party instead of fielding independent candidates in June election, but faces tough 10 percent threshold More

Twitter Targets Islamic State

New research shows suspending Twitter accounts of Islamic State, its supporters has been effective; group, its backers are facing 'significant pressure,' says terrorism expert More

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

Majur Juac made the leap from being a refugee in Africa to a master chess champion in US, where he shares his expertise with students 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.
Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Webi
X
January 29, 2015 9:58 AM
Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Web

Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Freedom on Decline Worldwide, Report Says

The state of global freedom declined for the ninth consecutive year in 2014, according to global watchdog Freedom House's annual report released Wednesday. VOA's William Gallo has more.
Video

Video As Ground Shifts, Obama Reviews Middle East Strategy

The death of Saudi Arabia’s king, the collapse of a U.S.-friendly government in Yemen and a problematic relationship with Israel’s leadership are presenting a new set of complications for the Obama administration and its Middle East policy. Not only is the U.S. leader dealing with adversaries in Iran, the Islamic State and al-Qaida, but he is now juggling trouble with traditional allies, as White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video MRI Seems to Help Diagnose Prostate Cancer, Preliminary Study Shows

Just as with mammography used to detect breast cancer, there's a lot of controversy about tests used to diagnose prostate cancer. Fortunately, a new study shows doctors may now have a more reliable way to diagnose prostate cancer for high risk patients. More from VOA's Carol Pearson.
Video

Video Smartphones About to Make Leap, Carry Basic Senses

Long distance communication contains mostly sounds and pictures. For now. But scientists in Britain say they are close to creating additions for our smartphones that will make it possible to send taste, smell and even a basic touch. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.
Video

Video Saved By a Mistake - an Auschwitz Survivor's Story

Dagmar Lieblova was 14 when she arrived at Auschwitz in December 1943, along with her entire Czech Jewish family. All of them were to die there, but she was able to leave after several months due to a bureaucratic mix-up which saved her life. Now 85, with three children and six grandchildren, she says she has a feeling of victory. This report by Ahmad Wadiei and Farin Assemi, of RFE/RL's Radio Farda is narrated by RFE’s Raymond Furlong.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid