Thursday, 31 January 2008

Window of opportunity: Will opposition unite ahead of presidential elections in Armenia?

The most likely scenario at the moment:

Orinats Erkir opposition party leader and presidential hopeful Arthur Baghdasaryan is declaring his support for former Armenian president Levon Ter-Petrosyan (there was significant hint on such possibility from Baghdasaryan’s team). It is not likely that another opposition figure and presidential hopeful Vazgen Manukyan will join this bloc. Then Raffi Hovhannisyan is urging his supporters to vote for this newly formed alliance. In this case, this bloc is becoming the most real and powerful challenge to current regime with very real chances to win in case of fair elections. With all my reservations, I would definitely support this bloc.

Prospects for presidential hopeful from the nationalist ARF Dashnaktsutyun party Vahan Honhannisyan in terms of uniting opposition figures around him are not looking very likely at the moment. Well, there is possibility of Vazgen Manukyan declaring his support for Vahan Hovhannisyan. However, even if this happens, poll ratings for Vazgen Manukyan are pretty low, and other than morale boost (important but not enough), it won’t bring Hovhannisyan sufficient number of additional voters to ensure his success during elections.

This is how I see the situation based on analysis of current developments. If opposition figures eventually decide to unite during the second round of elections only, it will significantly weaken their chances to win. Of course, there is always a possibility of failure to unite at all, in which case anyone wanting change in Armenia will lose this unique window of opportunity for perhaps another 5-10 years.


Onnik Krikorian said...

Well, I think it's more wishful thinking on your behalf actually, but we'll see. Raffi Hovannisian was rumored to be waiting to see if Vahan Hovannisian (no relation) doesn't pull out before the 9 February deadline for doing so before deciding, for example, but anyway.

Also, from looking at Artur Baghdasarian's rallies on the TV election ads, he seems to be attracting sufficient sized crowds in the regions although few are actually reporting him doing so online. I'd also question whether Orinats Yerkir have hinted at support for Ter-Petrossian given that A1 Plus has so far been the only online media outlet to report such a thing and even then, the reference is slight.

This weekend we'll know more, I suppose, as Baghdasarian is due to stage a rally in Liberty Square. I suppose a lot will depend on how many people he manages to rally there. In the past he has been able to attract the same size crowd as Impeachment/Republic did in the parliamentary election.

Moreover, quite a few students I've spoken to say they are considering voting for him rather than Hovannisian, Ter-Petrossian or Sargsyan. Nevertheless, Bisharian did say Orinats Yerkir would indeed support any opposition candidate in the second round.

On that, I'm surprised by your conclusion that winning in a second round behind an opposition candidate is effectively unlikely. I was actually thinking it's probably easier for them to win in the second given that the amount of falsification needed for an unpopular candidate would be more obvious when there are fewer choices.

That was my observation of the 2003 presidential election anyway. Sure, they could still do that anyway, but it would incur the wrath of the international community, and it's one reason why Saakashvili's vote was inflated by anywhere between 3-6 percent for the recent presidential election in Georgia.

Anyway. I don't think anyone can win in a first round, but let's see.

Onnik Krikorian said...

Also, it's kind of interesting. Any formation of a bloc uniting every single major candidate and opposition is the same with just one exception. Who leads them.

Kind of interesting to me, if Baghdasarian, Raffi Hovannisian, and Ter-Petrossian were together, why does it have to be Levon leading? Can't he just be one of the people involved?

By the same token, if an opposition alliance were to be made up of Vazgen Manukian, Artur Baghdasarian, and Raffi Hovannisian, what would Levon do then? Risk allowing Serge to win by not supporting them because he's not the leader?

Kind of strange situation which will determine who is really interested in changing the situation and who is just interested in coming to power. For this reason, perhaps, Heritage's position is interesting and perhaps even commendable.

That is, its membership is split with some hating Levon more and some hating Serge more. Some even support Baghdasarian and Vahan Hovannisian, so they have said at at least three candidates need to come together in order to support them, but more than that, they said they will support whoever is the leading alternative candidate to Serge based on the first round of voting.

It's interesting why everybody is instead trying to influence the decision instead of just waiting to see what the population decides. Like I said, a sign of Orinats Yerkir support or not in the country will be on Sunday when Baghdasarian stages a rally in Liberty Square.

I would expect lots of young faces and a more balanced makeup in terms of gender as we saw in last year's parliamentary election than Ter-Petrossian's and Serge Sargsyan's rallies.

Then, I think, both Orinats Yerkir as well as you and I can get a clearer idea of whether it's likely Baghdasarian will pull out by 9 February. And really, it has to be so in a little over a week because that's the deadline for doing so.

artmika said...

Important clarification: perhaps, I was not clear enough in my post, but when I wrote about chances for opposition victory, I meant through second round of voting; and I believe that chances will be higher if they unite before the first round of votes. I do not think anyone realistically stands a chance of winning this election in a first round of votes.

Onnik, I can’t write more right now, am on my way to work, but will further clarify my position on some points you raised later during the day in subsequent comments.

Onnik Krikorian said...

No worries. Have a good day.

artmika said...

Here we are.

1. When this scenario will be valid?
I wrote about this scenario with the assumption that mentioned opposition figures would agree to unite before the first round of voting. In that case, taking into account realities, I think that would be the most practical and effective way to do so. If they decide otherwise (uniting during second round or not uniting at all), than we have to think of new scenarios, which will be less desirable from my point of view.

2. Wishful thinking or likely scenario?
Yes, it’s both - wishful thinking and likely scenario. I firmly believe that if we witness unity of opposition (even if not all of them, but some of my mentioned main players), it will be very good for democracy in Armenia.

On the other hand, regardless of my wishful thinking, I thought of this scenario as the most realistic one considering circumstances, provided of course, as I mentioned above, that opposition figures decide to unite before the first round of votes.

3. Why it would be better to unite before the first round of voting?
I think that this way would be more effective, since in that case the opposition will participate with the united bloc which would significantly increase their possibilities of gaining respectful proportion of votes comparable to that of prime minister Serj Sargsyan. High proportion of votes would be important to boost the prestige of opposition among the electorate and also to increase electorates’ active participation in election and decrease the chances of frauds during the election process.

4. Why Ter-Petrosyan and not others?
Again, the assumption here is that they would decide to unite before the first round of votes. Otherwise, we have to revise it and consider the person who passed to the second round.

If it would be an alliance between Arthur Baghdasaryan, Levon Ter-Petrosyan and Raffi Hovhannisyan, as I consider the most likely and desirable one due to circumstances, than there are 2 options here - either Arthur or Levon should lead it. I wish Raffi is a formal part of the process (presidential candidate) in which case he would have been my preference. However, it is not the case and the question is: Arthur or Levon? With all my reservations, my preference will be for Levon to lead the bloc.

Although arguably Arthur Baghdasaryan has the highest poll rating among opposition leaders, he is not quite there yet to become president if compared with Levon. He may be a good speaker of parliament or something on that level or higher. On the other hand, despite poll ratings and ‘past history’, the momentum is around Levon now (whether we want it or not), and backed by Arthur and Raffi support (and their potential electorate), he would have the most realistic chances to defeat Serj Sargsyan during the second round of voting.

I think it is highly unlikely to achieve alliance between Vazgen Manukyan, Arthur Baghdasaryan and Raffi Hovhannisyan before the first round of voting, I can only see it for the second round if, say, Arthur pass it. Then Levon has to support Arthur if he has any credibility or if Arthur has any chance to win.

Anyway, this comment looks more like a separate blog post, but I thought it would be important to share my subjective thoughts in relation to issues you raised, which I hope would help to clarify my brief ‘scenario’ post above.

Onnik Krikorian said...

I personally think that whichever alternative candidate to Sargsyan has the most support in society should lead any united bloc.

Yes, you guessed it. For now, I don't see Ter-Petrossian as being that candidate, and also, I think people should be very concerned with his somewhat populist tactics which amount little more than trying to whip up negative and aggressive emotions in people.

Anyway, for now I don't see wide support for Levon. Moreover, I don't think he's needed as a leader either. He had his time and few want to turn back the clock.

Unless he becomes the most popular alternative, which I think we'll know after this weekend based on Baghdasarian's showing, if he really cares about rectifying his self-proclaimed mistake of bringing Sargsyan and Kocharian to Armenia, he can always support someone else.

Actually, given the closure of political parties and media outlets as well as the 1996 election, perhaps that's what he should be doing anyway as a means of rectifying many other mistakes he made while in office.

Still, like I said, it shouldn't matter who leads any GENUINE opposition coalition although I still think the point about many Armenians hating Levon is still true. Anyway, we'll see. Not long to go now.

Him for Whom the Bells Toll said...

I, too, am in agreement with Onnik that if the opposition forces (any of them, quite frankly) stand a chance to win, it MUST be in the second round. I think it will be much easier to rig the first round, and if the authorities don't succeed then, it becomes a problem for them come round two.

But, I cautiously question, and ultimately reject, the the assertion that "if Baghdasarian, Raffi Hovannisian, and Ter-Petrossian were together, why does it have to be Levon leading? Can't he just be one of the people involved?" Well...I, personally, don't think so. I will forego discussing why at this moment, but the identity of the leading individual matters much more than the coalition around it. That is, if any of the other opposition candidates were endorsed by LTP, his chances of defeating the authorities would still be less than LTP's chances of defeating the authorities... If, hypothetically, Dennis Kucinich was the Democratic candidate for President, I would still not vote for him even if both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama endorsed him.

As to follow up question, whether LTP would support another candidate in round two...if he's not the opposition candidate to advance, and someone else advances...yes, I think he will back the opposition.

artmika said...

There was even stronger hint today that my predicted and most desirable scenario as described in this post (Ter-Petrosyan + Baghdasaryan + Hovhannisyan), may well become a reality. RFE/RL reports :

Addressing supporters in the regional capital Vanadzor later in the day, Ter-Petrosian claimed that two other prominent opposition leaders, Artur Baghdasarian and Raffi Hovannisian, have agreed to endorse his presidential bid. “I have serious reason to state that Artur Baghdasarian and Raffi Hovannisian too will join us because this is already becoming a national-liberation struggle,” he said.

Reports on this announcement were confirmed by A1+ and E-channel. Armenia Election Monitor 2008 blog also posted a reflection on this news.

It's now a matter of days, if not hours, that we will learn whether this announcement will become a reality. I very much hope so.

artmika said...

As reported by Lragir , during his press conference today, Arthur Baghdasaryan effectively confirmed news that there are intesnsive talks going on betweem him, Levon Ter-Petrosyan and Raffi Hovhannisyan on forming opposition coalion. He mentioned, however, that he will not go into details (who will lead the coalition and whether before the first or second round of voting) till the end of negotiations.

artmika said...

IA Regnum also reports from Arthur Baghdasaryan press conference, that Baghdasaryan did not deny the possibility of him supporting former president Levon Ter-Petrosyan during 19 February presidential elections, cofirming that negotuations between three parties on forming of opposition coalition is in process now.

Speaking to IA Regnum, Armen Martirosyan, MP from opposition Hertage party (leader Raffi Hovhannisyan) neither confirmed nor denied reports on agreement to form a coalition with Ter-Petrosyan and Baghdasaryan. However, he mentioned that Ter-Petrosyan is not kind of politician who is making empty announcements, effectively suggesting the very real possibility of a coalition.

artmika said...

see also my post:

Threats of assassination amid almost imminent declaration of united opposition

Onnik Krikorian said...

I think no candidate interested in preventing Serge from becoming president should count out the possibility of joining another in order to achieve that end -- and that includes Ter-Petrossian.

Moreover, while Ter-Petrosian has the stature and appearance of a professional statesman, his candidacy as a united opposition candidate would not be accepted by many in opposition to Serge.

There are those who do not want him to return to power, but agreed, I suppose there are those who don't particularly consider Baghdasarian or Vahan Hovannisian as presidential material.

Still, a more neutral figure could get Vazgen Manukian and the Dashnaks on board, and I think that should be considered. On the other hand, if people really are unhappy with Serge, it shouldn't actually matter who leads.

Really. He's either the devil incarnate or he's not, right?

artmika said...

History in making: Opposition unites behind Levon Ter-Petrosyan ahead of presidential elections in Armenia

artmika said...

Arthur the loser, or the best hope for prime minister Serj Sargsyan