|Author:||by Hovhannes Nikoghosyan|
Submitted by Michael Santo on 2011-10-10
Armenia recently celebrated its 20 anniversary of independence, but good words and wishes have already been toasted, the professional community should pass the hangover and make assessments about the two decades of sovereign political existence of the Third Republic.
As in all other post-Soviet entities, Armenia has had a revolutionary path of crafting both independence and laying sustainable grounds for development, in the words of the UN Charter --- through "the scourge of war" imposed by neighboring Azerbaijan. As a matter of fact, all three acting administrations, being equally criticized and cheered, met different and difficult challenges in their service.
A brief analysis of three presidencies, hardly ever made so far, shall give proper understanding about the modern history and current political trends of this tiny mountainous country in South Caucasus. In sum, we will argue that all three presidential administrations and first 20 years of independence gave birth to three different ideological perspectives of development. Despite the fact that some experts, mostly due to partisan affiliations, are charmed by their “own idol” and ignorant of others, I will maintain that past 20 years should be assessed as an integrated whole. Though citizens have the final vote, it should be firmly established that all three presidents of Armenia, as in any country, contributed to its development at the extremes of their mind and abilities.
First presidency (1991-1998)
The first President – Levon Ter-Petrossian – is widely believed to be elected in the only and truly democratic election of 1991, affected by the nation-wide euphoria of independence. In fact, the nation voted not for Ter-Petrossian as a politician, but instead voted for the man who, as a leader himself, represented independence with his struggle.
The epoch of President Ter-Petrossian showed that the newly emerging Armenian statehood was able to win a war and was strong enough to meet the challenge of regime transformation - from command economy to emerging liberalism. However, neither the nation itself nor the leaders were prepared to live in democracy and very soon the euphoria was replaced with the first seeds of "command liberalism", resulting in an illegitimate privatization process as elsewhere in post Soviet republics.
Firstly, Ter-Petrossian was advocating a liberal statehood and "democratic island" in South Caucasus - with various degrees of practical success. During his first term until 1996, despite galvanizing de facto confrontation withs neighboring Azerbaijan and imposed blockade, his administration indeed demonstrated certain progress. But in the mid-1990s the so-called Vietnam syndrome broke grounds in the Armenian political landscape, as those freedom-fighters returning from Karabakh war fields "demanded" own place in the political and economic landscape. Having no other option to reintegrate these mighty individuals into civil life, the ruling regime surrendered at the expense of democratic development.
This was well demonstrated at an interview by former almighty "minister of everything" (now on Interpol's “most wanted” list) Vano Siradeghyan, where he shared memoirs about 1996 presidential campaign. Despite public pressure and street rallies, Siradeghyan testified, together with Defense minister Vazgen Sargsyan (a hero of Karabakh war, later prime-minister, killed in the 1999 Parliament shootings) a decision was made not to go for a second tour of elections, as "the president was tired and not ready to contest". Hence, the second term of President Ter-Petrossian may be well portrayed as a "rule of power", which would in two years time (early 1998) abandon him and crown newly appointed prime-minister Robert Kocharian as a next President.
This moment of early 1998 should be now named as a turning focal point, where the development ideology of Ter-Petrossian was rejected by the ruling elite and, by and large, within the society. As a wise politician, he decided to step down without further adieu.
Second presidency (1998-2008)
The decade of second President Robert Kocharian proved that Armenia can recover its economy through systematic convergence with the Diaspora. President Kocharian, being erected by same power circles, was heavily dependent on them up to late 2000. At some point in 2001, Kocharian started to advocate a new wisdom: Armenia should become the "most organized state" in South Caucasus, which was a nice way to say that financial and major economic influence in the country must be put under strict controls of the executive. The elections of 2003 reestablished this system. At that moment there had been certain illusions that "an organized state" was gradually becoming a successful and uncontested political reality. With no serious opposition on the ground, sky-rocketing hydrocarbon prices in the international market and, based on this, huge Diaspora remittances (mainly from Russia, also from France and US) and investment boom into real economy contributed to the illusion that the society is fond of the much-advertised "stability".
However, the "lifeblood injections" of Diaspora-generated remittances --- the hidden success story of past decade --- dramatically fell with the first signs of the global economic downturn which day-for-day practically coincided with the inauguration of the third, incumbent President Serzh Sargsyan. On another side, the re-birth of charismatic and, in the words of Wikileaks cables –the "willy" Ter-Petrossian as a so-called radical opposition leader accelerated a process of public resentment and protest. The aftermath of strong political struggle between the ruling elite and Ter-Petrossian camp had been the endless street rallies and unfortunate death of ten people in after-election street clashes of March 2008.
Undoubtedly, as a strong politician and a leader, it should have been hard (not to say a personal tragedy) for President Kocharian to pass on his legacy through a “state of emergency”, but he assured he was not going to stay as a youngest “pensioner”. Accordingly, his unfading political activism ever since raises unanswered questions.
Third presidency (since April 2008)
Although the third Presidency was a product of power-transfer within same ruling elite, but the new president Serzh Sargsyan from Day One initialed a different development ideology. Just to mention the rapprochement initiative with neighboring Turkey. Confronting an uneasy situation, the chief challenge of third Presidency has been to show whether or not Armenia (as a state) is fundamentally and sustainably able to develop. Troubled by an economic recession period, this will by no means become a hotspot discourse for 2012 parliamentary election campaign.
Indeed, President Sargsyan used to face tremendous challenges, both internally and externally. The opposition is much more consolidated than even before the 2007 general elections, largely due to political hyper-activism of ex-president Ter-Petrossian. Externally, the August war of 2008 was a “stress test” for the heavily import-dependent Armenian economy. However, the incumbent administration has managed to develop full-range support from all major power centers - from Washington to Brussels and Moscow, mainly for proactive and ground-breaking foreign policy endeavors. Substantially, on Nagrono-Karabakh his team enjoys empathy of foreign partners, while in Armenian-Turkish rapprochement track Sargsyan managed to handle both domestic unhappiness and the opposition of Diaspora groups.
The newly emerging President Sargsyan demonstrated that he is a man of political compromise. Still in 2008, even the forgotten political figures, who did have no public influence, were organized in somewhat uncertain Public Chamber - a localization of Russian experience itself. In the year of 2011 an unprecedented move shook the grounds of domestic politics, aimed at “consolidating the peace”. The main opposition suddenly agreed to establish a civilized dialogue channel with the government, which for the most observers, perhaps, once more illustrated the fundamental difference of the current regime in contrast of its predecessors.
However, unlike the situation in foreign policy, President Sargsyan is still unable to solicit support of a common citizen in domestic economy endeavors. For the latter, the inflation and economic downturn are still a daily challenge with only two possible scenarios – either the acting team of economists, largely known as a team of intellectuals, should be dismissed as an oblation to the public opinion, or a miracle should be prayed for.
In his 3rd year, President Sargsyan is unalternatively tasked to perform another major and necessarily legitimate reshuffle in the system of power. But this would be only the "means" of his alleged paradigm shift, not the "ends". The "ends" should yet be a gradual evolution of the quality of public authority.
Being the leader of the acting parliament majority - the Republican party - President Sargsyan firmly advocates that the next parliament (elections scheduled for May 2012) should only include “bright minds” and well educated individuals, never mentioned in publicly teased unlawful behavior. To make this a reality, a law on lobbying activities shall be adopted by February 2012 the latest - in order to calm down initial stress from local business tycoons.
The recent surprise has been the establishment of presidential Economic Reform Chamber, headed by prime-minister Tigran Sargsian (no relation to the president), to reform and implement better state regulation laws and strategy that so far hinders sustainable economic development. Re-emerging from a political crisis of 2008, the current administration now has the most challenging alternative – “win new hearts” or surrender to main adversaries as a natural flow of alleged political inconsistency. The Economic Reform Chamber seems to be a last chance to the acting government to show performance before accelerating 2012 political campaign.
But for these days, the streets of this tiny country in Southern Caucasus are filled with festive atmosphere, and hardly anyone thinks of politics. The hard times are yet to come in late October, when the 2012 parliamentary elections campaign will kick off by inertia.
Written by Hovhannes Nikoghosyan, PhD, the Chair of Political Processes and Technologies Dep’t at Russian-Armenian (Slavonic) University, Yerevan.
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