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Here are some extracts from the interview with political analyst Richard Giragosian published on Zhamanak.com:
(Zhamanak) Mr. Giragosian, how would you evaluate the February 19th Presidential elections in Armenia, the post election developments, particularly the tragic events of March 1?
(Giragosian) In my opinion, it was not the election itself that was the most important development for Armenia. It was not the process of the election vote that was significant, but rather the process of the election campaign that was more revealing because the unlevel playing field and the closed political system were much more serious problems than the one-day problems with voter fraud and other irregularities.
And for me, as someone who has moved from the Diaspora to Armenia, the real test for Armenia is not about personalities, but is about policies. And this is not about Levon Ter-Petrosian. It is not about Serzh Sarkisian. It is about what kind of country Armenia is set to become and what kind of Armenia its people want for their children and grandchildren. And policies are more important than people to building a new and better Armenia.
Returning to your question, clearly, the post-election crisis in Armenia, after the wave of demonstrations and public protests over the February 19 presidential election, has led to three specific trends.
First, in my opinion, the post-election crisis in Armenia is far from over and, in fact, it is only continuing. The crisis is still there and there is no chance of going back to the pre-election status quo, no matter what some of the Armenian authorities may want or claim.
Second, a related development concerns the political, social and economic realities of the current situation in Armenia. Specifically, the post-election crisis only revealed and confirmed the growing level of discontent, frustration and anger over the mounting inequalities and disparities of wealth and income (and of power) in today’s Armenia. The election also puts new pressure on the new Armenian government, as the level of popular discontent has been awakened.
But the third development is somewhat different, and stems from the fact that the current stage of politics in Armenia is about change. Not only change by itself, however, but positive change—reform and progress. This is the challenge for the new, post-Kocharian Armenian leadership—to move forward toward a more open and fair political system based on consent not fear. But it remains to be seen if the Armenian government is capable of achieving this.
(Zhamanak) How would you describe the role of opposition: its leader Levon Ter-Petrosyan and the movement he initiated, their future actions within the context of the political developments of Armenia?
(Giragosian) First, I strongly believe that Armenia is now at a significant turning point. The next few weeks and months will determine not only the nature of the next Armenian government, but will also define what kind of country Armenia will become. The time for public demonstrations may be over, but it is clear that now is the time for every Armenian citizen to become engaged in a healthy and lawful debate over politics and policies.
But most of all, there can be no return to a status quo of “disabled or deformed democracy,” but there must be a transformation of popular protest into political participation. Armenia’s “public citizens” must be allowed to become actors and no longer limited to being mere spectators in the Armenian political system.
Second, Armenia is now entering a new political era. The long-standing dominance of the country’s political elite is clearly fading. Ironically, even the two top rivals in the presidential election, Sarkisian and Ter-Petrosian, represent an elite that has risen to political power from the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. But Armenia’s new political era will be defined by the rise of a new younger political elite, operating in the new arena of an empowered parliament.
And it is in the parliament that will rapidly emerge as the true center of gravity for Armenian politics. This shift in significance away from an overly centralized presidential powerbase has already been matched by a devolution of power to the parliament, a trend that has already seen the emergence of a new opposition. Thus, although the outward demonstrations of the current post-election crisis remains fixated on the presidency, the real looming battle will be within the parliament.
But the gravest threats to stability and security in Armenia remain the unresolved internal challenges of socio-economic inequality and corruption. Until these challenges are overcome, the real danger is that the country’s mounting social discontent may reach a point of no return, and erupt into real social unrest. And until the Armenian authorities recognize the severity of this threat, the result will be not only a lack of legitimacy but a profound deficit of democracy for years to come.