Pages

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Opposition congress: 'Ready for a dialogue'


Effectively, leader of opposition movement, Armenia’s first president Levon Ter-Petrosyan expressed his readiness for a dialogue based on PACE recommendations: “While not accepting the legitimacy of a regime that seized power with such crude methods, we are ready to take into account the fact of its being a real political factor and to start political dialogue with it,” he said. “But we regard that dialogue not as a means for bringing one of the parties down on its knees but as an opportunity to implement real reforms in the country and to create a normal field for political activity.”

I do not think that Ter-Petrosyan should have directly stated that he accepts PACE call to opposition to recognise the Constitutional Court’s decision which approved the election results (“This should not be interpreted as the obligation to agree with the merits of the court’s decision.”). Fraud in elections was the main reason which sparked the protests, and ‘acceptance’ of its results for practical reasons to move forward cannot be considered as a precondition (and never presented as such by PACE) but rather a part of a final outcome of negotiations (with a package of measures aimed at democratisation of Armenian society). However, freedom to prisoners who were detained for political motives is essential to create a basis for a negotiated solution out of current political crisis in Armenia. This should not be a subject of formal negotiation process per se, but rather a necessary precondition, I would say the only precondition to put before the government.

How serious is Armenian government in terms of making necessary reforms and changes in accordance with the PACE recommendations, and engaging in a dialogue with the opposition, will be known on 10 May when a committee created by a decree of Serj Sargsyan will present its action plan.

38 comments:

Onnik Krikorian said...

Well, agreed, the acceptance of the constitutional court ruling as requested by the CE should go hand in hand with the release of those detained for political reasons, both of which should not be considered preconditions.

Unfortunately, both sides are treating them as such, while I agree with you that they should occur at the same time and perhaps as an outcome of a first meeting which starts to negotiate over the package of measures to democratize Armenia.

The independent inquiry is also something that I think has to happen as part of any agreement. There's no question about that -- it needs to occur and it has to. For now, though, I'd like to see representatives of Sargsyan and Ter-Petrossian meet at least once (if not themselves).

If both sides disagree one or both can always walk away, but not meeting is not really getting us anywhere. It's also important to note that while the CE says the opposition must recognize the CC ruling, it suggests taking matters to the European Court.

Of course, we all know that such a process will take years, but it is the only legal option left and one that they are apparently going to do. As for the government committee, while I'm willing to give it the benefit of the doubt for now, I don't think it can actually achieve anything without the input of the radical opposition.

It also needs to be completely open to public scrutiny. I don't watch TV, I admit, but in the West some kind of hearing would be televised. That would be a good option in this case too if everyone can treat the matter maturely and responsibly.

Onnik Krikorian said...

However, freedom to prisoners who were detained for political motives is essential to create a basis for a negotiated solution out of current political crisis in Armenia. This should not be a subject of formal negotiation process per se, but rather a necessary precondition, I would say the only precondition to put before the government.

Ok, I've just read the CE resolution and you know that this is going to be impossible to comply with until, for example, court cases are held.

12.2. the persons, detained on seemingly artificial and politically motivated charges or who did not personally commit any violent acts or serious offences in connection with them should be urgently released;

Who gets to decide this? Unfortunately, it's a matter of presenting or not presenting evidence in a court of law (and yes, I understand that raises a whole host of other problems).

Anyway, simply, the CE has demanded the release of those detained for non-violent or political acts, and it has also done the same with the opposition accepting the CC ruling. As I see it, you can't have one side demanding one of those, and the other side not.

Either, both have preconditions or they don't. I know Levon's people think the government is about to collapse, but from where I'm sitting, I see no sign of that happening anytime soon.

The two demands are very clear in the CE PACE resolution and are not subject to negotiation. They should therefore occur at the same time, in my opinion, although not necessarily before the two sides meet to discuss the other aspects of the resolution.

Onnik Krikorian said...

Incidentally, to clarify why the second comment. I misunderstood your post in the first. Instead of arguing that both should occur, you were arguing that only one should. Sorry for the confusion.

artmika said...

Onnik, if you read PACE resolution (wording and order/place of mentioning), the urgency to release political prisoners is put at much higher priority than acceptance of Constitutional Court decision. They cannot be on the same level: one (prisoners) is a consequence, the other (fraudulent election) – is the very reason of sparking the protest actions. Therefore, as I mentioned in my post, for practical reasons of moving forward, the recognition of the Constitutional Court decision could be considered as part of a package deal aimed at democratisation in Armenia.

Government cannot engage in effective dialogue with the opposition while its prominent members are detained. If only for practical reasons of initiating this dialogue, all those who are not detained under ‘direct violence’ charges should be immediately released. Agree with your other points raised in your first comment. All these issues along with others should be a subject to a dialogue.

Onnik Krikorian said...

Well, whatever I think of the approach the radical opposition, I would say that it is up to government's to be seen to be govern fairly and to attempt to promote consensus in society so I would say that the release of those detained for their political activities should be released as a sign of goodwill.

However, I differentiate between "those detained for their political activities" and those who were engaged in violent acts. At the same time, I also believe that cases should be opened against those policemen that engaged in violent acts too. Besides, whichever side seems to be acting more moderately is going to be seen better by society and the international community.

Back to the constitutional court ruling, perhaps the issue at this point is not openly recognizing it, but not openly rejecting it as well. Dunno, maybe we are in a situation where neither side will back down on their core demands. That is, the government reacting negatively to calls for new presidential election, and the opposition demanding one.

Incidentally, regarding the need for the government to demonstrate its genuine willingness to resolve the divisions in society, I still believe that after any package of measures to push democratization along in Armenia, parliamentary elections should be called.

Perhaps we will need another few years for all the measures to be properly implemented so it's not right to hold them earlier, I don't know. Regardless, in my opinion, there is the urgent need to make sure the next parliamentary vote is more reflective of the different political groupings in society.

This is the biggest problem here now, I think, and one that unless changed will always result in an authoritarian presidency. It really has to change for the next parliamentary election whenever it is held and this is why negotiation about a package of democratization measures that ARE implemented is so important.

If that happens, I can wait until 2012. However, it is clear that we can not and should continue like we are at present for any longer.

Onnik Krikorian said...

If that happens, I can wait until 2012. However, it is clear that we can not and should continue like we are at present for any longer.

Obviously I meant to say "can not and should NOT"

reflective said...

Let's just add that these are not two equal parties. While I agree that reconciliation and moving on is important for Armenian society, much of that has taken place already in the form of the coalition government.

People may not like its composition, may not like the terms or timing of the coalition, but the reality is that there has been some horse-trading as is expected in a parliamentary system.

And as the momentum of the radical opposition comes to a halt (or already has) as the government gets on with governing, the elections become a thing of the past. LTP played himself into a corner, choosing not to build any kind of alliances.

That being said, I would prefer some kind of jail terms for all who violated the law on March 1, a release of those not guilty of crimes, and a back-to-business environment in Armenia. As I said above, much of that feeling/environment is happening regardless.

Anonymous said...

reflective, I totally agree with you: Robert Kocharyan and those who carried out his illegal orders should be jailed, and the political prisoners should be released.
The results of a fraudulent election should be abolished in order to return to a normal situation in Armenia

Anonymous said...

again this word "radical" opposition

Do you guys know the meaning of the words "radical" and "opposition"?
Members and supporters of the coalition government cannot be called opposition, whether radical or non-radical.

"Radical" is the one who demands a complete change in the political system, for ex. if Levon demanded to abolish republic and establish a monarchy he would be a radical,
however, at this point there's nothing radical about the opposition movement
so, please stop using this Soviet clishe

Onnik Krikorian said...

Incidentally, I would suspect that there is one more important date the opposition might use to try to hold some kind of demonstration, but haven't heard anything yet.

May 9 -- Victory Day and Shushi Liberation Day.

Given a) the use of "victory" as a slogan and b) Zhirayr Sefilian being in prison, does anyone know if anything is planned, and at what time/where?

As Armenians usually become quite noticeable by their absence from the streets during the hot days of summer, I would imagine this would be the last chance to hold something until the autumn.

Yes, there's constitution day, but I don't think anyone really cares about that and as I said, in the summer people generally stay indoors until evening when it's much cooler or are off in the regions whenever the opportunity is there.

Onnik Krikorian said...

The "radical opposition" is a term used even by pro-Ter-Petrossian news outlets such as RFE/RL. Moreover, Heritage is opposition and currently not part of Ter-Petrossian's movement. Indeed, none of the parties that makeup Ter-Petrossian's support base have sufficient support to constitute a force able to claim the "title" of "opposition."

In the parliamentary election (forgetting the inflated vote for the Republicans), they failed to enough votes to enter parliament and most of the parties behind Ter-Petrossian were dead as political forces long ago. Indeed, this was probably why they supported him. This was their last chance to stay in the picture.

As for the term "radical opposition" as post-election street protests were planned even before the election, I consider them "radical" insomuch that they believe they can only come to power outside of the electoral process itself.

artmika said...

I do not normally use word “radical opposition”, although I understand what people mean.

However, I do not agree that Heritage is not part of Levon Ter-Petrosyan movement. True, they are separate political party (and my favourite one so far) with their distinctive style of work and not structurally part of block of parties supporting Ter-Petrosyan, but they are part – and essential one – of broader opposition movement led by Ter-Petrosyan, as they declared starting from the pre-election period.

In fact, I only consider 2 opposition forces in Armenia – Ter-Petrosyan block and Heritage who are united in opposition movement. Therefore, when I say “opposition” or “opposition movement” without mentioning names, I mean LTP + Heritage.

This is to clarify my position. Others, of course are entitled to their vision of opposition in Armenia.

Onnik Krikorian said...

Well, I would say that (eventually) endorsing a candidate just before an election (and not unanimously at that with some division within the party) is not the same as being part of a movement led by Ter-Petrossian. Indeed, there was no additional official statement about joining the movement after the election.

Yes, I understand that members of Heritage address Ter-Petrossian's meetings, but it has to be noted that Raffi Hovannisian, for example, did not address the recent congress. I'd be interested to know, however, if he attended.

Anyway, I don't think anyone has the right to speak for Heritage so until they actually issue a statement outling their position, I consider the situation unclear. My perception is that there are those in the party that do want to be part of this movement, but there are those who don't.

Probably, if Ter-Petrossian's movement does stay around (and I'm not sure that this is even clear. Sorry, I think I can't be sure of that until next spring), Heritage are going to have to make a decision and I would imagine by holding their own congress.

For now, though, I think they are clearly opposition, but still working through legal, constitutional and parliamentary means (although the latter means actually less than the first two in the present-day reality) whereas I don't consider that this is the approach of the "radical opposition" or "opposition movement led by Ter-Petrossian" or whatever you want to call it.

That could change, and might yet do so, but for now, I view Heritage as being somewhere in between although of course being closer to one side rather than the other.

If the government show themselves unable to take the PACE resolution seriously and the "movement" becomes something more than just about Ter-Petrossian returning to power (i.e. a pro-democracy movement with a broad-based leadership from various political parties), I think the whole ball-game will change.

For now, though, I consider that Ter-Petrossian's movement is losing steam and I know people that supported it but who now have lost interest. Certainly, I don't see it as anything larger than it was (a sizeable minority) and a new tact needs to be taken (as well as other new factors being introduced) if that situation is to change.

Like I said, I can't speak for Heritage, but I think that for now we have a few prominent individuals openly speaking at Ter-Petrossian meetings, but Raffi is remaining somewhat aloof. Until a Heritage statement is released saying differently, I consider them somewhat separate entities but with close supportive links with parties in opposition to Sargsyan.

Anonymous said...

There is only one opposition. Which one is the "non-radical" and which one is the "radical" when there is only one?
Not again with this idiotic adjactives to divert the attention.

To-day we have a confederation of political parties with a shadow government as an opposition and a sold out coalition supporting the self-declared "president" Serj.
In all upcoming elections the confedeartion will slowly destroy the SerjoRebert regime, just wait and see.

Onnik Krikorian said...

In fact, I only consider 2 opposition forces in Armenia – Ter-Petrosyan block and Heritage who are united in opposition movement. Therefore, when I say “opposition” or “opposition movement” without mentioning names, I mean LTP + Heritage.

Basically, I agree with your point about "opposition parties" (and I think that the ARF-D really lost their chance by joining the government coaltion), I really don't believe you can say the "opposition movement of LTP and Heritage led by Ter-Petrossian."

Until Heritage make that decision (which they didn't even if they finally and seemingly reluctantly endorsed Ter-Petrossian just before the vote), I think many in the party would be offended. It is up to them to make a decision and a statement at some point. Of course, I can't rule that out and I would imagine it is a possibility.

Onnik Krikorian said...

Anonymous, that is your hope and your personal opinion, and only that. For now, though, the forces behind Ter-Petrossian represent an albeit minority of Armenians. Time will tell, although I am interested in your mention of a "shadow government."

Certainly, it would be an interesting idea to introduce the idea of "shadow ministers." This would be an excellent way to offer and identify alternative policies to the population and a progressive step (in my opinion) in the political life of the country.

artmika said...

Anonymous, I like the idea of "shadow government" too. That's exactly the way opposition parties in the UK work, each having "shadow ministers".

Onnik Krikorian said...

Yeah, I would really like to see this. Shadow ministers or shadow spokepersons for key government positions, and yes, the UK sprung to mind. The shadow cabinet is a key part of the political process -- what the government minister says and proposes and what the opposition counterpart does.

This also goes someway in addressing a key complaint with Ter-Petrossian's movement. That is, who would be his team. This not only would identify them, but potentially gain them some credibility if they could offer a real alternative that makes sense to the population.

I'd welcome such a development not just for this current period, but in terms of the development of the entire political system of Armenia.

Anonymous said...

Onnik
I doubt that LTP supporting parties or from now on the National Congress has minority support. Can you give me any facts of your claim of "the forces behind Ter-Petrossian represent an albeit minority of Armenians"? If not than your claim is not true and therefore not a professional and misleading statment coming from a journalist.

Yes it is true that we hadnt had the chance to see the real results during the presidential elections therefore it is hard to say who has the main popular suppport. I am pretty sure that if it went without falisfications ( this include the 5000 dram bribes and equal coverage of the campaign) LTP would if not gained 50+ but at least more than any of the other candidates. But anyway the people have been robbed of that opportunity so it is hard to tell.

Never the less even after March 1 killings people are not afraid. This is amasing, as a result we had April 24 march, and the latest gathering of people at the around and in the government building during the 2nd congress on the 2nd of May. If you consider the repressive situation those are very bold actions i.e. there are still many political prisoners, many more are in underground, and many and many more keep low.
If teh government (and it seem you too) are so sure that LTP and his team are a minority why they dont allow demonstrations or re-run the elections?

Anonymous said...

You didnt even read or heard his speech?
In his speech LTP declare the formation of the shadow government.
It is a very long speech but take your time to read if you want to , as I believe, present an impartial opinion.
Reading this speech will at the minimum balance the material you get through the TV and other Serj brainwashing tools.

Anonymous said...

Onnik,
1. I don't care if Radio Liberty (which I don't think is a "pro-Levon" outlet, btw, but that's another question) uses the term.
I don't care if Levon or his supporters use the word.
The fact is there's nothing "radical" about the opposition, whether in good or bad sense.
2."RAdical" is not a moral judgement,
it's a term which denotes something, and this something isn't present in the case we are talking about.
3. Saying "radical" opposition implies there's other - "non-radical opposition". However, there's no other serious opposition besides LEvon, whether radical or non-radical.

Heritage is deifnitely part of it, even though Raffi Hovannisian is sort of trying to keep a ballance, the other Heritage MPs have been actively involved in all of the opposition actions.

As for your claim that Levon is supported by a minority of Armenia's population, you don't have any factual basis to support that claim, except for the official election results, which I don't think anyone even closely aware of the fraud technologies in post-Soviet space believes in.
On the other hand we have evidence of dozens or may be hundreds of thousands standing in manifestation for days for Levon, and an evidence that Serzh failed to organize a manifestation of his own, which suggests that even those who voted for him didn't care for him enough to stand in the republic square for 2 hours

Anonymous said...

As for the claim that Levon is supported by a minority of Armenia's population,
no one has any factual basis to support that claim, except for the official election results, which I don't think anyone even closely aware of the fraud technologies in post-Soviet space believes in.
If we believe these elections esults then we must believe that LEvon had won the elections of 1996, Robert had won the elections of 2003, because in both cases official results said that.

I am not claiming that I am 100 percent sure that Levon has the support of teh majority of Armenian public, what I am saying is that before there are clean elections there is no other way to measure the public support than street manifestations, and clearly in this Levon has outnumbered Serzh
in street manifestations.


If you know how else we can measure the degree of public support in country where both elections and sociology have been notoriously manipulated, please tell me how

artmika said...

Re " shadow government":

Thank you, Anonymous (05 May 2008 01:54). Actually, I read Levon's speech but perhaps like with all long speeches sometimes you miss some thoughts, in this case I missed that important one sentence where Levon mentioned about "shadow government". Now I re-read it and found that part (below, in Armenian). He referred to a "shadow government" when talking about the transformation of the opposition movement into more structural Armenian National Congress. He did not exclude the possibility that this "future party will work mainly via shadow government advantages of which are well known to a civilised world":

Չի բացառվում, անշուշտ, որ համատեղ գործունեության եւ գա ղա փարախոսական դիրքորոշումների մերձեցման արդյունքում «Կոնգրեսը» հետագայում վերածվի կուռ կառուցվածքով օժտված կենտրոնամետ կուսակ ցության։ Չի բացառվում նաեւ, որ այդ կուսակցությունն իր գործունեությունը հիմնականում ծավալի ստվերային կառավարության միջոցով, ինչի առավելությունները հայտնի են ողջ քաղաքակիրթ աշխարհին։

That would be very important and welcome move!

Bruce Tasker said...

Whether or not LTP was able to gather sufficient support to have attracted the majority of votes, assuming the election was fair (which it was not) will never be known. But through his statements of overwhelming confidence that he would be Armenia’s President after the election he was able to break down the fear factor among the electorate. Consequently, despite the many obstructions imposed by the state authorities, impressive numbers came out enthusiastically in his support.

Serge was also able to muster impressive crowds, but they were subjected to a state orchestrated pro-Serge / anti-LTP media bombardment, intimidated, pressurized, ferried to his meetings and paid to vote on the 19th. Then after all of that, Serge quite clearly rigged the election result and stole the Presidency. That is all now history.

The unfortunate conclusion is that as of today LTP has deceived the people of Armenia. He was not able to demonstrate that he was ready, willing and able to defeat the incumbents, in an electoral environment of which he was very well aware. Therefore he did not become President on the 19th.

Moreover, since the election he has not shown a means by which he could turn over the result and become President, except through future elections, which will inevitably be repeats of the farce Armenia has recently witnessed. At the 2nd May congress, I was again hoping he would unleash the secret weapon I assumed he must have had, but again I was disappointed.

The international community and the Armenian people have allowed the present regime to become too powerful, and having held on through this last election, it is likely to get even stronger and more domineering. Armenian society will become even more polarized, ruled by an authority which is widely disliked, and although LTP could be blamed for his last failed attempt at the Presidency, the bottom line is that it is the international community and the Armenian people who are to blame.

Onnik Krikorian said...

Well, whether Levon is is the only opposition or whether he has amount of support is a personal opinion. There is the Heritage party which is functioning as a separate entity and shows itself to be the kind of opposition I would expect in a democratic country and that's my opinion.

As for level of support, I gauge that on what I see and hear around me. That is, tens of thousands (averaging 20-30,000 people according to objective reports from Reuters, AP, AFP, BBC, and even RFE/RL (a non-objective partisan outlet) and not 100s of thousands as a high level of support would dictate.

We can suppose that Serge's vote was lower than it was, but few suspect it was lower than 35-40 percent. Regardless, given that the other candidates gained over 425,000 votes combined and what we consider was a much lower actual turnout, I don't think that gives much scope for suggesting that everyone else voted for him.

That was not suggested in his rallies (despite his and others ridiculous claims rejected by every non-partisan force that people numbered 100-500,000 people at the rallies). In fact, they rarely exceeded 20,000 and were 30-35,000 at their height except for once when they hit around 50,000.

These are not the numbers revolutions are made of, and his support has since declined in my opinion as people get on with their lives and are fed up with the struggle for power between both Serge and Levon. Again, just an opinion, but diplomats here seem to think that neither Serge and Levon had enough votes to win in a first round.

That's a conclusion I agree with and as I said, there was nothing -- and there is especially nothing now -- which indicates that Ter-Petrossian or his supporters have any right to speak on behalf of the Armenian nation. Nor Serge either, perhaps, except in so much that the legal and constitutional structures in the country recognize him as president.

Actually, the people understand that too, but it does not mean the 52.8 percent the CEC declared voted for him in the first round. Anyway, what you believe is up to you, but my take -- and that of objective observers -- is that neither won in a first round and this was the problem of the election.

The highest figure I've heard from LTP supporters is that he might (and I stress might) have got as much as 35-40 percent which meant that 60-65 percent probably didn't vote for him. Instead they voted for candidates representing for the most part parties in the coalition government.

Anyway, the notion of an opposition movement made up of many insignificant figures with the full backing of most Armenians is very romantic and all that, but best mentioned by partisan songs, poems and samizadat literature for the faithful.

Most of the population on the streets don't appear to give a damn and just want to get on with their lives. Only by proving themselves as a different kind of political force than they did before the election, and especially if the government fails to implement any real change, will the situation change.

That is what the radical opposition need to do now rather than continue with what is a somewhat propagandist approach designed to keep the spirits of the most active 10,000 supporters up. Yes, it's true that it's impossible to know what the actual vote result was, but Ter-Petrossian failed to present any evidence to suggest he gained enough to win.

Moreover, few buy into that line anyway. The only thing we can be truly certain of is that the margin by which Serge won is so small that a second round should probably have been called.

Onnik Krikorian said...

Anyway, the main point is simply this. Like it or not, Serge Sargsyan is the president of the Republic, and however many votes you think this or that candidate got is the stuff of propaganda and personal opinion and nothing else.

What matters more is dealing with the problems of this country and uniting it after two sizeable minorities were polarized to such an extent that clashes occurred. On that basis, who is president doesn't matter as long as both happens.

Moreover, whichever political force can be seen to put those goals above petty self-interest and personal ambitions will probably gain the support and trust of the population. I suggest the government, opposition, radical opposition, civil society, and the international community concern themselves with that.

reflective said...

I think radical is accurate for Levon. He has consistently called for a revolutionary approach for government change. He has disregarded election process and results, couldn't be bothered participating in parliamentary elections, and has ignored state structures such as the Constitutional Court (despite the fact that many (a majority?) of the members were named during his own tenure, including the head of the court itself.)

It doesn't get much more radical than this. You can agree or disagree with his tactics, but the above is an accurate description of Levon's approach the last 3 months. I wouldn't argue that use of the term radical is pejorative insofar that Levon has quite openly and unabashedly adopted this stance.

Others, such as Heritage and especially others such as Shavarsh Kocharian and Vazgen Manukyan could be considered constructive opposition, in that they are participatatory (in elections, for exmaple), don't just disagree with everything the government does on principle, and have stated in various ways that they hope to affect government policy and commend government if their influence results in change.

reflective said...

Bruce - I don't buy all this doom and gloom stuff. I doubt that many (even his most ardent supporters) thought that LTP was a serious candidate. As much as the level of distrust or contempt from the people toward the current authorities, it is no less than toward LTP. Having said this, he was successful at amassing the protest vote.

As Onnik indicated, time to move on. Serj is president (for good or for bad), and many on the streets are heralding the palpable (yet modest) change. Government meetings are open (never were during LTP or Kocharian's time). Tax and customs are under scrutiny (again, viper pits of corruption during the previous 2 administrations). Most of the people in Armenia are not naive enough to believe that there is a magic wand here.

If the rhetoric turns into reality, and people's lives improve, LTP will fade into history along with his communist predecessors. Populism can only carry on so long.

reflective said...

By serious candidate, I meant that he had serious chances to win the elections. I didn't mean to comment on his "seriousness" as an individual.

Azad said...

I am rather skeptic on the idea of shadow government on several grounds:

It is true that such a practice exists in some parliamentary systems but it is always within the parliament and part of the ongoing democratic debate.
Those of you who know the U.K. system (I don’t), please explain the purpose of the shadow government, and how that can relate to LTP’s proposed initiative.

A shadow government OUTSIDE the NA may even be dangerous as far as insitutionalisation of democracy is concerned as it can completely undermine the NA. The situation that such an initiative will create may even be more dangerous than continuing with a disputed NA as we have at present.

I understand that an early NA election will not be acceptable to the ruling parliamentary majority. But one way to solve the problem may be a partial NA election. As far as I know such an option has not been explored up to now. The current NA has been elected based on 2 schemes/forms; individuals and party lists (if I am not wrong it is called proportional). If one of these 2 is cancelled (I would say the second), part of the NA can be renewed. This can bring the radical opposition into the NA and into the “normal political process” without completely changing the balance of power within the NA. This, of course, until the next general elections.

Azad said...

Other than the institutional aspect, I am also concerned with what may happen to the Heritage faction in the NA if the “center of gravity” of political debate moves to outside the NA. Unless they participate in the shadow government, they will completely be marginalised.

I wonder if the Heritage has been informed of and agreed to such an initiative. Otherwise, this can also be interpreted as a way that LTP and his team (the Congress) are trying to keep the Heritage under control (in addition to reconfirming their position as an alternative to the authorities). In his long speech LTP in fact indicated that no one is left in the political scene except the authorities and the movement that he is leading. I wonder what he really meant by that.

artmika said...

Unfortunately, reports from Yerevan do not convince that Armenian authorities are serious in making changes in accordance with the PACE recommendations:

Opposition Sees No Letup Of Government Crackdown (RFE/RL)

The Armenian authorities are continuing their post-election crackdown on the opposition contrary to their pledges to comply with a recent resolution adopted by the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE), a spokesman for opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian said on Monday.

Arman Musinian said the authorities are not only keeping more than 100 opposition leaders and activists in jail but are continuing nationwide detentions of other, less known Ter-Petrosian supporters. “We see no signs that the authorities are really addressing the problem,” he told RFE/RL.

According to the Office of the Prosecutor-General, 89 persons are currently under arrest pending trial on charges mostly stemming from the March 1 clashes in Yerevan between security forces and opposition supporters demanding a re-run of the February 19 presidential election. Fifteen others have already been tried and convicted, virtually all of them for allegedly committing vote irregularities and resisting police during the break-up of Ter-Petrosian’s non-stop protest in Yerevan’s Liberty Square which preceded the deadly clashes. Four of them were handed suspended jail terms after pleading guilty to the accusations, while the others protested their innocence and will have to serve their sentences in prison.

The most severe punishment was given to Harutiun Urutian, chief of Ter-Petrosian’s election campaign office in the northwestern town of Maralik. He was convicted of obstructing the work of a local election commission and sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment.

Individuals found guilty of more grave crimes in Armenia routinely get lighter sentences, especially if they did not fall foul of the government. For example, Armen Keshishian, the former mayor of Nor Hajn, a small town 15 kilometers north of Yerevan, was sentenced to only three and a half years in prison for shooting and killing a man in broad daylight in September 2005. Keshishian was a member of the governing Republican Party of Armenia.

The Armenian government insists that none of the jailed Ter-Petrosian loyalists was arrested and prosecuted for political reasons. Still, it has pledged to meet key demands contained in the PACE resolution adopted on April 17. One of them is “the urgent release of the persons detained on seemingly artificial and politically motivated charges.”

President Serzh Sarkisian formed late last month a working group tasked with ensuring Yerevan’s compliance with the resolution. The group is headed by the chief of the presidential staff, Hovik Abrahamian, and compromises senior law-enforcement officials and members of the Armenian delegation at the PACE.

Among those lawmakers is Raffi Hovannisian, the leader of the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party. Hovannisian has informed Sarkisian that he will not be able to attend the group’s meetings because of a busy travel schedule and proposed that another Zharangutyun parliamentarian, Stepan Safarian, be appointed in his place. The Armenian president and his four-party governing coalition rejected the proposal.

Armen Rustamian, chairman of the parliament committee on foreign relations, criticized Hovannisian’s stance on the issue on Monday. “Why is it that when it comes to real work we start looking for replacements and ways to wriggle out of it,” Rustamian told RFE/RL. “This is unacceptable.”

According to Avet Adonts, another pro-government Armenian member of the PACE, the working group will discuss the issue of opposition detainees at its next meeting scheduled for Wednesday. “A representative of the Office of the Prosecutor-General will present detailed information about those cases,” he said.

Only two senior opposition figures, Suren Sureniants and Yerjanik Abgarian, have been released on bail so far. Other prominent oppositionists such as Aleksandr Arzumanian, Ter-Petrosian’s national campaign manager, have had their pre-trial detentions prolonged by courts even after the PACE resolution.

“They continue to prolong pre-trial arrests,” complained Musinian. “This despite the fact that no investigative activities are being done with regard to the overwhelming majority of our political prisoners. In essence, the criminal cases against them are not being investigated, which only shows that those cases are fabricated.”

“The regime seems in no mood to meet the PACE demands. Its assurances to the contrary are just a gimmick,” said Ruzan Khachatrian, a spokeswoman for the People’s Party of Armenia (HZhK), one of two dozen opposition groups aligned to Ter-Petrosian.

Both Khachatrian and Musinian claimed that police continue to round up and bully opposition activists across Armenia to make sure that they do not attend further anti-government protests in Yerevan. Musinian said as recently as on April 29 an opposition supporter in the southern town of Artashat was detained and beaten by the local police to give incriminating testimony against a resident of a nearby village also sympathetic to Ter-Petrosian.

Four other opposition activists were reportedly taken to the police headquarters of Yerevan’s Malatia-Sebastia district on Saturday morning and set free at night. Anahit Bakhshian, a parliament deputy from Zharangutyun, said she visited the police station and was told by the deputy chief of the district police that the four men are being questioned in connection with their participation in the March 1 unrest.

Speaking to RFE/RL, Bakhshian suggested that the real purpose of the interrogations was to extract incriminating testimony against Hakob Hakobian, a local opposition parliamentarian arrested on charges of organizing “mass riots” as part of a coup plot allegedly hatched by Ter-Petrosian. Hakobian, who also heads an association of Armenian veterans of the war in Nagorno-Karabakh, began a hunger strike on April 28 in protest against his prosecution. According to his lawyer, he has decided to end the strike on Tuesday.

In its resolution, the PACE also demanded that the authorities in Yerevan repeal recently enacted legal amendments that allow them to ban opposition rallies practically at will. The Venice Commission, another Council of Europe body, said the authorities have agreed to “repeal or change the amendments” and will draft corresponding changes in the law soon.

Armenian officials have said the government also accepts in principle the PACE’s calls for the launch of an “independent, transparent and credible inquiry” into the March 1 violence. Some of them have suggested that it be conducted by an ad hoc parliament commission.

Musinian claimed that the government is “terrified” by the prospect of such an inquiry. “If they allow an independent investigation, all criminal cases will collapse,” he said.

reflective said...

Musinian's claims are more unbelievable that even the government's extreme take on the issues. And anyone close to Raffi Hovhannisian? Why did he duck and run?

Armen Filadelfiatsi said...

Not only would an independent investigation lead to the delegitimization of the criminal cases, it would lead to Aghvazian being put on trial as a thoroughly corrupt attorney general, Seyran Ohanian being put on trial as one who probably approved the use of live rounds against peaceful demonstrators, and Robert Khocharian being put on trial for unlawfully declaring a state of emergency when there was no real threat to the existence of the state.

Of course they're terrified. The power they project is illusory, and their rule is hollow. They're a sneeze away from collapse. They'll do anything they can to stop such an investigation, and that is when one of the "bolts" will snap.

Robert Kocharian has tried to delegitimize the investigation by saying that the Constitution says that the "crimes" should be dealt with by the Prosecutor General. But that attempt to mislead was cooked up by him for domestic consumption. Armenia's legal, political, and institutional relationships with Europe fully deal with Kocharian's flimsy argument.

And, for his part, Levon Ter-Petrossian is a level-headed politician who's motivation is to right a mistake that he made. In four months, he built up a movement that culminated in a veritable renaissance, and he did that under repressive conditions--24/7 anti-Levon propaganda, scores of jailed activists (now about 150), threats, bribes, firings, and so on and on--, conditions that would give the mummified corpse of Stalin an erection.

And isn't it funny that the same people who were accusing Ter-Petrossian of trying to claim ownership of the people's opposition movement, are now assuming as a foregone conclustion Ter-Petrosssian's leadership of it. How is that?

They remind us that Levon Ter-Petrossian could not have won the election, but they need to be reminded about the conditions under which Ter-Petrossian did get roughly a third of the vote.

And, of course, the idea that the Kocharian camp is politically legitimate
and should therefore be seen as being on-par with the Opposition, given "fair" treatment, and treated as if it is some kind of right-wing ideology that balances the Opposition's left-wing tendencies is a propaganda trick.

Kocharian's camp is not only not a political party, it operates in violation of the Constitution of Armenia.

proudly anonymous said...

Reflective, could you clarify? Specifically which part of Musinyan's claims do you find hard to believe, or harder to believe than the government's? (Serious question). In my humble opinion, the "policemen were unarmed" claim cannot be topped by anything Musinyan cooks up today.

And what do you mean re: Raffi? If you mean why he wasn't at the Congress, he was actually in Berlin at the time, and Khachatryan pledged support for the "movement" on behalf of Heritage.

And as far as not wanting to be part of the "working group" is concerned, I can understand him not wanting to associate himself with something that isn't going to accomplish much (it's specifically set up to fail: I mean putting Hovik Abrahamyan in charge of Euro compliance is like tapping OJ Simpson to lead a task force to end spousal abuse).

Now I know that there will be the predictable "give the group a time and a chance" uproar, but I've seen too many European resolutions ignored in Armenia to have any hope; and today, instead of releasing political prisoners, they are only adding to it and extending jail time without any due cause.

People might be tired of waiting; someone here talked of people in the streets being satisfied with the visible yet small change apparent in today's Armenia. I'd like to meet these people and congratulate them for their legendary patience and blinding/blind optimism. I mean, really, this is the Armenia we all dreamed of: people died by the thousands in Kharabagh so that one day the very few who survived would be rotting away in jail, while AMAZING! we'd get to see Tigran Sargsyan and his ministers in action, uttering absurdities about the direction this country is heading. Truly an overwhelming breakthrough.

I honestly don't know how much support LTP has today (it's sort of hard to tell with estimates ranging from "3,000 or so drunk, jobless, criminal drug addicts" to "whole nation"), but I suspect that as this government proves its incompetence in the face of rising prices and other challenges, this "movement" will only gain in numbers, and the 351,222 that officially voted for Levon will only multiply.

reflective said...

Proudly anonymous - First of all, I find no greater level of truth in opposition media than in government. RFE/RL showed its true colors (unsuccessfully trying to shed its legacy as a CIA/spy arm from cold war days), and I won't even comment on how ridiculous A1+ has become in its entire reporting of the election season. As such, I don't have much faith in the objectivity of the analysis, commentary, or even news as reported by these sources.

I find that official state media has improved substantially since the new administration took over and I am optimistic that it will continue. Musinian's claim below seems absurd to me:

“This despite the fact that no investigative activities are being done with regard to the overwhelming majority of our political prisoners. In essence, the criminal cases against them are not being investigated, which only shows that those cases are fabricated.”

As far as people being satisfied with the qulity of life in Armenia, I think that there are few for whom this is the Armenia of their dreams. However, I doubt highly that the majority of people in Armenia can point to anyone with confidence and say "if he/she were in charge, things would be alot better." LTP, for example, shot himself in the foot with the events leading up to and including March 1. I wouldn't be at all surprised if he is much less popular now than he was in early Feb.

It is not about absolutes. It is about choices. And I think the majority of people have made their choice.

I agree though, that it is sad that most people feel that LTP and his cronies "are getting what they deserved." or "what comes around goes around." The very people who inaugurated post-communist political imprisonment, media shutdown, and rule-through-fear and intimidation are now complaining about those same issues. The years of hard work in the early 90s that went into creating this culture of governance is not easily undone when it is no longer convenient/beneficial.

artmika said...

HERITAGE PARTY CORRECTS COALITION STATEMENT

The Heritage Party takes note of the collective statement, dated May 4, of the four parties which together constitute the ruling coalition in the Republic. Because of its partisan and misleading nature, however, one point requires immediate rectification.

Had the intent of the coalition parties been to present the full truth to the public and to create the necessary environment for true political dialogue, they would not have blessed the names of Raffi Hovannisian and the Heritage Party with inclusion in their declaration.

Heritage is, of course, touched at the thought of being remembered, even if in passing, by the parties of power, but it is neither sufficient nor serious for them and their authorized representatives to speak declaratively about the imperative for honest discourse but then to proceed to undertake measures and unleash polemical interpretations which both belie the shallowness of their commitment and serve to deliver a reality that bears no relation whatsoever to even the most generous reading of their words.

For the record, when ten days ago presidential chief of staff Hovik Abrahamyan requested by telephone Heritage Party chairman Raffi K. Hovannisian's consent to be named in an executive decree to an interdepartmental working group charged with preparing by May 10 a list of proposals to the president in connection with PACE Resolution 1609, Raffi Hovannisian informed Abrahamyan, inter alia, that he would be away from Armenia for family and professional reasons until that time. Nonetheless, Hovannisian explicitly stated his and Heritage's readiness to engage directly in a meaningful discourse with the president and his working group whenever deemed desirable. What is more, the executive board of the Heritage Party communicated to the chief of staff its nomination of MP Stepan Safaryan to replace Hovannisian in the daily activities of the working group, and to this day has received no official response in this connection.

The coalition and those who author its statements are free, of course, to write whatever they want. But if integrity means nothing, and their sole aim is to create a formal if superficial record to take something back to Strasbourg, then they should keep Raffi Hovannisian and the Heritage Party out of it. Heritage does not need gratuitous, self-serving sermons on how and when and where to work.

If, on the other hand, there does reside a sober understanding of the gravity of the current crisis in the coalition's pronouncements on the relevant PACE resolution and incorporated demands, in whose favor all of its delegates voted, then the Heritage Party stands ready in good faith to negotiate with the coalition and its leader for accomplishment of a program of national recovery for Hayastan and all of our people.

The Heritage Party
6 May 2008
Yerevan

(via Lragir.am)

proudly anonymous said...

Reflective, the apocalypse must be near because we actually agree on something. The so-called "opposition media" is part of the problem. For example, while it is false that LTP is a marginal political corpse with dwindling support, it is also false that he is leading a national awakening movement a la 1988.

But I think to put opposition newspapers/online media and public TV in the same domain is not correct. When you pick up Zhamanak you know it's Pashinyan's paper, or if you pick up Hayk you know it's HHSh's official mouthpiece, so you have appropriate expectations. Furthermore, combined, the opposition papers, blogs, websites don't have 1/8 the audience H1 does (Zhamanak is the biggest paper, and it prints about 6000 copies daily!)

H1 reaches even the most remote regions in Armenia (you'd be surprised) and shapes public opinion. Worryingly, a lot of people watching H1 don't realize they are being subject to propaganda and actually take what they see as news. Therefore, it has a responsibility to inform the public.

I don't know what improvements you've seen, but I was watching Haylur over the weekend and it was more of the same. Now, it didn't include the usual "LTP is the worst thing to happen to the Armenian people, is a Turk/Turkish agent/Zionist/Azeri/Mason", but I am disinclined to get too excited about this, because
1)They'll be right back to it once Europe forgets about us
2)I think it's dangerous that things the Armenian people are entitled to to begin with (ie objective public TV funded with public money) are paraded around as breathtaking achievements. In other words, some semblance of journalistic standards have returned to H1 that haven't been seen since at least '99 and this is presented as the government's generous commitment to reform.

There needs to be a substantial, concrete set of "bareshrjutyunner" as Tigran Sargsyan would say, and not an imitation of them. When 11 out of 16 ministers stay the same, and officials simply swap posts, but we can now see their sessions, that doesn't mean the regime is committed to change, it means they are committed to an imitation of changes, mainly as a show for Europeans. They may still prove to be reformist, but I don't see that tendency just yet, and like I said, they might be short on time.