February 18, 2013 marked the sixth presidential election in the history of independent Armenia. Compared to many former Soviet republics, Armenia has successfully carried out many national and local elections as well as constitutional referendums in its young 22 years of democracy, albeit with difficulties and scars.
Despite some predictions that the 2013 presidential election was pre-determined and would not be competitive considering the absence of the main opposition forces—which neither put forward their own candidates nor supported any of the seven candidates—Raffi Hovannisian unexpectedly received about 37 percent of the votes. These were the voices of opposition supporters and people expressing their concerns about the social-economic issues facing the country. In the absence of other powerful opposition candidates, people gave their backing to Hovannisian, surprising many—including Hovannisian himself.
The most promising period since 2008 now awaits us. We must fully and consistently dedicate ourselves to our work, to addressing people's needs, and, as a result, building a more secure Armenia.
The election results were distinguished by a high number of invalid ballots: more than 50,000 out of just over one million cast. The invalid ballots placed third after re-elected President Serzh Sargsyan and runner-up Hovannisian, totaling higher than the remaining five candidates received combined. They were also a symptom of a lagging trust in the political process.
The presidential election in Armenia provided an opportunity for international observer missions to provide their opinions and assessments. They qualified the election as generally calm, well-organized, transparent and respectful of basic freedoms. During the election, media reported equally on all contenders and each candidate was afforded free airtime.
The observers reported that the 2013 election showed a significant improvement over the previous presidential vote. The 2008 election passed in an incomparably more tense atmosphere, resulting in the March 1 tragedy in which ten people lost their lives. The 2013 post-election developments also greatly differed from the previous election: Hovannisian’s rallies in Freedom Square were not as crowded and continuous as in 2008, while law enforcement bodies were more tolerant towards demonstrators.
At the same time, international observers reported the following incidents during the election: interference by biased individuals and officials, an abuse of administrative resources as well as the inability by the authorities to dispel the lack of confidence in voter lists. On voting day, there were cases of pressure exerted on voters and election violations. Post-election developments demonstrate a lack of confidence among voters toward the electoral system. To overcome this, decisive steps must be taken to create a society with a transparent, democratic, electoral culture.
Following the election, Hovannisian disputed the official results. He and fellow candidate Andreas Ghoukasyan requested that the February 18 election results be annulled, but the Armenian Constitutional Court rejected their appeal. Only three months later, Hovhannisian’s “Barev, Yerevan” alliance suffered a further setback. During the May election of the Yerevan City Council of Elders, the bloc barely managed to overcome the seven percent minimum of votes needed to gain seats. Barev, Yerevan now holds only six (out of 65) seats on the Council.
The main opposition parties: Prosperous Armenia, the Armenian National Congress and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, participated in the Council of Elders election after boycotting the presidential vote. While the ANC and ARF failed to win seats, Prosperous Armenia took 17. President Sargsyan’s Republican Party secured forty-two seats—a wide majority.
With the presidential election now behind us and the charged aftermath winding down, we should expect the post-election season to be followed by a stable period of planning and implementation. There will be no parliamentary or presidential election in the Republic of Armenia for the next four to five years, providing time for the Administration to fulfill its promises and programs and for the opposition to gather stronger support and prepare for the next elections.
The country faces challenges and continued hardships but people are nevertheless hopeful for the future. The future of Armenia is the responsibility of this administration, the opposition, and each of us. In the spirit of wisdom and responsibility towards the people, and in an atmosphere of mutual tolerance, both the authorities and the opposition have a great responsibility: Armenia’s opposition must take a constructive stance, while the authorities must engage in dialogue with them. The people must continue to voice their opinions and participate in positive and constructive ways to influence the future direction of the country. Most important, President Sargsyan’s administration has repeatedly expressed its readiness to cooperate with all.
The Republic of Armenia’s ultimate interest demands a pan-Armenian unity to address the challenges and issues before the nation. To build and develop a strong Armenia, we must rally around Armenia’s statehood and President Sargsyan. There is no room for hopelessness, pessimism or disillusionment. Regional challenges and obstacles facing Armenia require us to be united, vigilant and decisive.
President Sargsyan’s administration has already been formed under the leadership of Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan. The National Assembly has approved the state budget submitted by the new government. The next five years of this presidency will seek to implement reforms to the system, strengthen civil society, uphold basic human rights and establish a true democracy. Without a doubt, the President and the Government of Armenia will do everything possible to establish justice, respect people’s dignity, eliminate monopolies and fight abuse and corruption. As President Sargsyan has often emphasized in his speeches, the authorities will undertake serious steps towards democratic, political and economic reforms. Armenians worldwide have high expectations for these ambitious goals that President Sargsyan will undertake during his second term in office.
After receiving a vote of confidence from a large majority of the people, the President offered guarantees and expressed his political will and support for Armenia’s economic development, continued reforms, higher standards of living and other vital issues. On April 9, during the presidential inauguration ceremony, at a special session of the National Assembly, President Sargsyan said: “I thank our citizens for their active participation during the presidential election. I am thankful to those who trusted me to continue as President of the Republic of Armenia. I am also thankful to those who voted for other candidates. By doing so, they expressed their dissatisfaction regarding today’s issues facing our country. Furthermore, they sent a clear message to the authorities—a demand for more results. Be assured that your messages have been received.”
Armenia is facing serious challenges in emigration, poverty and unemployment. The president, recently meeting with members of the new government, correctly stated: “Every election, and in particular national elections, is a test for our country and our young democracy. We have passed through those tests quite confidently and emerged as a stronger state and society. The most promising period since 2008 now awaits us. We must fully and consistently dedicate ourselves to our work, to addressing people's needs, and, as a result, we will build a more secure Armenia.”
Complicated geopolitical challenges face Armenia, as well. Among others, these include the resolution of the Karabakh conflict, ensuring Armenia’s security, international recognition of the Armenian Genocide and Armenian- Turkish relations. These issues are vital to Armenia’s young statehood. They demand that we, as a nation, unite and together address these challenges.
The reforms initiated by President Serzh Sargsyan during his first term and his continuous efforts and bold steps aimed at maintaining the well-being of the Armenian people surely will provide momentum for his second term and the legacy he will leave. We wish him and his administration well as they work towards Armenia’s stability, progress and the prosperity of the Armenian people.