So Armenia had a Presidential election last week. Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian — the establishment candidate — won in the first round, supposedly with 53% of the vote.
I’m not much of a prognosticator. I do it sometimes, but I’m not very good at it. Still, here it is: two weeks before the election I made this comment on my home blog:
Armenia’s Presidential election is on Tuesday. I’ve hardly blogged about this, because it’s pretty much a done deal — the ruling party controls all media, has a massive machine in place, and is ready and willing to stuff ballot boxes and juggle numbers if necessary. My prediction: Serzh, the establishment candidate whose ugly face has been everywhere for the last few weeks, will win in the first round by 55%.
I was off by 2%. Amusing bit of trivia: apparently Serzh’s supposed percentage was just .01% different from the winning percentage of President Saakashivili in neighboring Georgia, just a month ago. 53%, boys — just enough so nobody can ask for a recount. More than that looks greedy!
So what does it mean?
At the moment I’d say, not much.
Oh, the various opposition parties are very upset. The leading opposition candidate — former President Levon Ter-Petrosian — has cried foul, and he’s gotten pretty good turnout for rallies in the capital the last few days. (Non-violent rallies, thank goodness.) Tens of thousands of people have come out, every day for the last week, to protest. A number of diplomats and a couple of other officials have condemned the elections, and have promptly been fired. Various foreign embassies, including the US, have pointedly refrained from commenting on the election or congratulating the new President. The OSCE has issued a very carefully worded statement.
But it’s hard to see where this goes. The folks who run Armenia’s government? They aren”t going to call another election. Nor will they ever acknowledge that they stole this one. I don’t think Ter-Petrosian is quite crazy enough to call for an insurrection, and I don’t think it would succeed if he did.
Is Serzh Sarkisian all that bad? Well, he and his buddy Robert Kocharian have been running Armenia for the last decade — the current election was just so they could swap jobs, with Serzh taking over the Presidency from Kocharian and Kocharian becoming Prime Minister after Serzh. (Kocharian is seen as the dominant member of the partnership, though there’s speculation that might change now.) And it hasn’t been a bad decade for Armenia. Lots of corruption and whatnot, but also lots of economic growth. Oligarchs and mafia, but that’s true in most of the former USSR. The stalemate over Nagorno-Karabakh hasn’t changed, but it hasn’t gotten worse either. And the leadership has managed to stay friendly with Russia, neighboring Iran, and the West all at the same time, which is pretty impressive when you think about it.
Key point: the average Armenian is somewhat better off. There are plenty of problems in Armenia, goodness knows, but I don’t see the sort of festering resentment that leads to governments being suddenly overthrown.
Mind, in the long term I think Sarkisian and Kocharian are letting the country slowly drift towards a second Nagorno-Karabakh war. But that’s not going to happen for a while (if it ever does), and I don’t think it’s a major factor right now.
So, having just said I’m not much of a prognosticator, here’s my prediction: there will be more protests, but not much will come of them. Eventually they’ll fade, leaving behind a scrim of lingering frustration and disillusionment. Serzh will be President. And things in the lower Caucasus will roll along, at least for the next little while.