Armenia’s Elections Damned with Faint Praise

It is by all accounts a red-letter day in Armenia, shining exemplar of democracy, as it rejoices in yet another round of fraudulent elections that keep the governing coalition in power. This time, however, international observers hailed the decrease in outright fraud and election-related violence, a compliment of sorts.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe hailed the relatively competitive and open elections, contrasting them with the 2007 elections that brought Serzh Sargsyan — the man who presided over the Nagorno-Karabakh militias during the Khojaly Massacre, and who a Wikileaks cable revealed apparently sold weapons to Iran for use against Americans in Iraq — to power. Those nominal elections ended in violence and a crackdown by authorities over the corrupt electoral processes on display. Ten Armenians died in the rioting.

In fairness, for the autocratic ruling party, even this small step forward was a good one; but OSCE observers were quick to note that the Republican Party of Armenia, once described by The Economist as a corrupt and typical post-Soviet “party of power,” engaged in systematic subversion of the electoral process, including pressure on voters and a refusal by electoral commissions to enforce the law. As OSCE observers dryly noted, “Several stakeholders too often failed to comply with the law and election commissions too often failed to enforce it.”

The Economist also noted that allegations of vote buying were so rife (there is now a famous YouTube video of it) that the opposition parties are planning protests. This is unlikely to matter to Sargsyan, whose opposition is unable to arrive at a common candidate to face off against him, and who seems unwilling or unable to stem the outflow of Armenians, capital, and prosperity from the country.

Sargsyan will likely continue to remain President for as long as he desires, much as his predecessor, Robert Kocharian, did before handing off power to his protege, Mr. Sargsyan. The effect on regional stability looks to be slight: Armenia’s close alliances with Iran and Russia will continue to provide it leverage against Azerbaijan, who numbers the United States and Israel among its allies. Its ability to use its enormous (and growing due to rapid departures from the country) diaspora will keep criticism from the United States and major European countries to a minimum.

It is a shame. Armenia began its post-Soviet life with so much promise, but is now one of the poorest on Earth, with an electoral system that runs the gamut between sham and barely functional. It has tied its future to dying but determined Russia and Iran, even to the point of selling weapons to the pariah state, and continues its occupation of Azerbaijan, while insisting that it wishes to be part of the community of free nations.

Armenians can do better; but until they tire of decades of corruption, poverty, brutal occupation of another country complete with ethnic cleansing, and the old habits of the Soviet Union, they will not deserve it.

Image copyright Vepar5/Shutterstock.