Kasia Remshardt explores the landscape of the forthcoming Armenian presidential elections.
On 18 February 2013 Armenia will hold presidential elections, however there is little reason to believe that it will produce a genuine political battle between the candidates or shake up the disillusioned Armenian public. Instead, current office-holder Serzh Azati Sargsyan is likely to win a new mandate thanks to his overwhelming administrative resources, a feature he shares with many of his regional counterparts.
The main issues of the campaign are Armenia’s worsening economic performance – partially a legacy of the global financial crisis – and ongoing diplomatic squabbles with Turkey and Azerbaijan. As a result, the campaign will test the strength of Mr Sargsyan’s regime in the wake of the dramatic events of the last electoral cycle in 2008, when post-election protests ended in the death of several protesters and the imposing of a twenty-day state of emergency.
This time, the heavyweights amongst the opposition seem to have decided against running altogether this year. The leader of the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), Gagik Tsarukian, is suspected of wanting to run for local municipal office or of seeking to protect his business interests despite coming a respectable second to the president’s Republican Party in last year’s general elections.
Another prominent drop-out is former president Levon Ter-Petrossian, whose electoral defeat in the last presidential elections 2008 led to violent clashes between his supporters and the military and police forces.
Out of the seven remaining challengers who are competing for the post, one recently made international headlines for unfortunate reasons. Former Soviet dissident and leader of the Union for National Self-Determination, Paruyr Hayrikyan, was shot outside his home in Armenia’s capital Yerevan last month in what is widely believed to be a politically motivated assassination attempt. Undeterred by his injuries, Mr Hayrikyan decided to participate without exercising his right to ask the Constitutional court for a postponement of the elections.
Although there has been some discussion of the Armenian election in the Senate Hearings over the appointment of the USA’s new Secretary of Defence, Chuck Hagel, an election victory for Mr Sargsyan is likely to see a deepening of relations with Russia. Armenia is reliant on gas imports and has ceded a large share of its state gas importer to Gazprom.