908) Having chosen the path to European integration, Armenia nevertheless resembles an Eastern autocracy

From Fragile Democracy to Authoritarian Governance

At the June 22, 2006 extraordinary congress of the Republican Party of Armenia (RPA), Defense Minister Serge Sargsyan assured journalists that the 2007 parliamentary elections would be the best in Armenia's history. But the journalists seemed somewhat confused as to what `the best elections' meant in a country where presidential, parliamentary and local elections have been falsified throughout the last ten years, and the referendum on amendments to country's fundamental law - the Constitution - turned into a blatant forgery. . .

Naturally, it is not justified to draw conclusions a priori and to claim that in 2007 we are going to face yet another falsified election. But, on the other hand, expectations should not be high either, as we take into consideration that all the presidential and parliamentary elections in Armenia since 1995 were falsified to a certain degree and the reports by international organizations and, the OSCE observer missions, in the first place, held that the elections did not correspond to European standards. The constitutional referendum confirmed another reality - falsification has once and for all become the most significant feature of our political culture.

The RPA has been represented in the National Assembly since 1995. At that time the party was a constituent of the Republic Bloc led by the Armenian National Movement (ANM). In 1998 the party took part in the February regime-change and later that year - reinforced with the war veterans' organization Yerkrapah - it supported Robert Kocharyan in his bid for presidency against Karen Demirchyan; one year later it joined the Unity Bloc led by Vazgen Sargsyan and Karen Demirchyan. In 2003 the Republicans again supported Robert Kocharyan in the presidential election and received a relative majority of mandates in the subsequent parliamentary elections.

This historical digression is important, as since 1995 the Republicans have always been with the acting government of the moment and have taken part in the election falsifications. Thus, a logical question arises: `If, in the past, the party took part in devastating the electoral system and in desiccating the field of politics in Armenia, why should they then give up the temptation of forging the 2007 elections?' After all, if in the past the Republicans forged the elections to a certain degree for other political parties as well, this time they can do it exclusively for themselves. And another important point - the parliamentary elections will be followed by the presidential election, and in the process of selecting the future leader of Armenia, the 2007 parliamentary elections will play no small role. Incidentally, Serge Sargsyan, too, links the issue of his taking part in the presidential election to the results to be shown by RPA in the parliamentary elections.

Where is Armenia headed?

In 1990s some political analysts maintained that before reaching a real and irreversible democracy the states that had become independent from the socialist camp and the Soviet Union would have to go through a stage of authoritarianism. In part, these predictions have proved to be true, and in some states, especially among the former Soviet republics, the initial fragile democracy has been replaced by authoritarian system of governance.

Amongst them Armenia, cruel as it may sound, does not differ in the level of democracy much from its neighbor and competitor - Azerbaijan. It is typical of authoritarian states to have dominance by one person, the president, over the executive branch, the legislature and the judiciary, control of the mass-media, neglect of human rights; the rule of one person instead of rule of law; devastation of the political system or establishment of controlled `democracy'; clan economy or oligarchization of the economy.

Generally, the countries of the former socialist camp and the Soviet Union might be conditionally divided into three groups by their levels of democracy, respect for human rights and rule of law - irreversibly democratic, fluctuating between democracy and authoritarianism, and authoritarian.

Almost all the countries of Central and Easter Europe, with the exception of Albania and, partly - Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia belong to the first group. The others, including three Baltic states have become full-fledged democracies, and joined the European Union and NATO.

Fluctuating between democracy and authoritarianism are Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan. At the same time the countries of this group are, again conditionally, divided into two groups - those who are headed for and are more inclined toward democracy and prove that through concrete deeds, first and foremost, through free and fair elections; and those who are closer to authoritarianism. Unfortunately, Armenia together with Russia and Azerbaijan has taken the latter path.

And, finally, the third group consists of the four Central Asian republics and Belarus, where authoritarianism is established. Of course, they too differ from each other, for instance, Tajikistan with its authoritarian leader, Emomali Rahmonov is obviously more `democratic' than Turkmenbashi, and Belarusian Batka is more `democratic' than the despotic and bloodthirsty Karimov of Uzbekistan.

Armenia has no other real resource but democracy

Geographically, Armenia obviously has bad luck. Not only is our country land-locked, but it also has serious contradictions with two of its four neighbors and it is hard to expect that problems with Azerbaijan over Nagorno Karabakh might be settled in the near future. Armenian-Turkish relations are not promising either. Today almost 80 percent of Armenia's borders are under blockade.

Armenia is unlucky from the standpoint of democracy as well, but unlike the unfavorable geographical position, we cannot blame our hostile neighborhood for the criminalization of the government, oligarchization of the economy, overall corruption, falsification of election results, handing the law over to the shaved-headed bodyguards, violation of human rights and other shameful phenomena.

The democratization of Armenia is first of all necessary for us, not for the West. The West, for the sake of its interests and because our country's unimportance, might, after all, not care a bit about where Armenia is headed. Democracy is, in the first place, necessary for us, if we as a people deserve to live decently.

Can you name just one country in which democracy is not established, except for the Arab Emirates and sultanates rich in oil and other natural resources, where citizens are happy and life is pleasant? Democracy is not just a word; this term, alien to Armenians, first of all, hits at the oligarchs and clans, at corruption.

In democratic states, free economic competition, freedom of speech and the press, and the rule of law govern. When this is the case, a country develops economically and politically, and conditions for a life of dignity and prosperity are established. And when this is the case, it is not at all necessary to be rich in oil and other natural resources.

Look at the map and you will be convinced that Armenia has no other serious resource but democracy.

By Tatul Hakobyan
© 2006 Hetq Online. All Rights Reserved


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