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Paper ballot boxes, minor clashes, and another assault... Yes, it's election time in Yerevan

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No sooner does the ruling Republican Party of Armenia inform journalists that there is no mutual hatred or enmity between political forces contesting the crucial municipal election to determine Yerevan's mayor on 31 May comes news of some minor clashes between opposition supporters and the police. Oh, and did I mention an albeit aborted violent assault on a television journalist?

No? Well, first things first. To begin with, two brief but potentially volatile incidents have occured at rallies held by the extra-parliamentary opposition Armenian National Congress (ANC) led by the country's first president, Levon Ter-Petrossian. Thankfully the first clash didn't result in anything more than shoving, but it at least gave me an opportunity to test live streaming from mobile phone in case future incidents escalate into something much worse.


Meanwhile, after a local pollster announced the findings of an arguably less than scientific survey indicating that Prosperous Armenia, a member of the coalition government, could barely count on even 20 percent of votes in the Yerevan election, a TV journalist on whose program the findings were announced was assaulted outside his apartment building early this morning.

Shant TV's Nver Mnatsakanian escaped serious injury thanks only to the immediate reaction of his neighbors. The party, founded by perhaps the country's richest and most feared oligarch known more for his "philanthropic deeds" at election time rather than actual campaigning, denies that the two events are linked. Mnatsakanian apparently doesn't either, but others aren't so sure.

Coincidentally, the party's founder and head, MP and businessman Gagik Tsarukian, offered the pollster in question $1 million if he could back up his claims. The former world arm-wrestling champion later reduced the amount to AMD 1 million (about $2,700) Regardless, what perhaps remains the biggest problem of all is that such news has become more important than actual discussion of policy issues, campaigning or even engaging the electorate.

Indeed, perhaps with the exception of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation -- Dashnaktsutyun (ARF-D), which does at least go through the motions while also hoping to benefit from its recent departure from government, the opposition is also guilty. While it could present real examples of negligence, mismanagement and corruption in local governance to potential voters, the emphasis instead remains on regime change.

It's no wonder then that an international election monitoring team is concerned by the conduct of the pre-election campaign after only a few days. The three-member delegation consisting of Council of Europe Congress of Local and Regional AuthoritiesVice-President Fabio Pellegrin, Michel Guégan and Nigel Mermagen expressed concern at the battle shaping up between the government and opposition.

"We are concerned that the real needs of the citizens of Yerevan could be brushed aside because of this confrontation," said Mermagen.

No change there, then, but with little other attention from the international community, the vote could prove very problematic indeed. Although few believe claims of outright victory from any of the parties, the absence of a sufficient number of election observers on polling day will not help matters. Moreover, although transparent ballot boxes were introduced for elections held since 2003 to minimize fraud, media reports indicate that this time round they will be made of... paper.

Yes, it's election time again in a tiny land-locked former Soviet republic with pro-governmental parties planting trees instead of cutting them down as they usually do to make room for more of their own cafés in public parks while roads and back yards are asphalted after years of neglect and coincidently on the same day as election meetings are held in the same area.

For its part, the opposition instead hopes to exploit fears over recent talk of rapprochement between Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkey even if this is actually a municipal election. Just don't mention that the very same policy was also pursued by the opposition's main candidate, Levon Ter-Petrossian, when he was president -- or at least until an internal coup d'état forced him to resign in 1998. 

Meanwhile, in other news, the police have announced a substantial increase in the number of voters registered in Yerevan since this time last year and many might wonder what other "surprises" lie in store as the campaign progresses. After all, the first week hasn't even ended yet. So, until the next Frontline Club post, why not keep up to date with the latest developments on my personal blog or Twitter feed.

Elections can be controversial even in democracies, but in countries such as Armenia they're something else entirely. Watch this space.

Photo: ANC pre-election campaign rally, Komitas, Yerevan, Republic of Armenia © Onnik Krikorian / Oneworld Multimedia 2009


Onnik Krikorian | May 7, 2009 11:45 PM | Reply

Incidentally,on the subject of the aborted assault on Nver Mnatsakanian, one pro-government blogger now on Twitter alleges that he was attacked by opposition supporters:

Nver Mnatsakanyan was beaten by people representing Armenian National Congress. pposition people.

about 8 hours ago from web

However, @pigh, better known on this blog for counter-protesting a women's rights march as well as responding on the post itself, doesn't provide any links to back up the claims.

Nevertheless, I've requested links to any news items or evidence to validate the accusation. If any materialize, I'll post them here. Of course, it's also possible that the attack was unrelated to the election at all.

However, when such things happen during elections, there is every reason for concern.

Regardless, it does at least indicate one development. That is, a new election-related online information war is about to start. This also defined the 2008 presidential election in Armenia and actually made it quite unbearable.

Propaganda blogs mushroomed, and misinformation from both sides was spread as much as factual. Hopefully that won't prove to be the case this time round, but more on that later.

Onnik Krikorian | May 9, 2009 2:32 PM | Reply

To update on the allegation that opposition supporters attacked Mnatsakanian, I never received a response to my query and there have been no news reports that I've seen suggesting the same. Therefore I can only assume it was an attempt to spread misinformation on yet another case of a journalist being assaulted in Armenia. If I hear anything to the contrary I'll post more details.

Tigran Kocharyan | June 1, 2009 12:01 AM | Reply

It was a joke
Moreover, I have never got any claims for links.
If there are any send it to me.
Pro-Sperious Republican Bloody Blogger

What do you think?