Armenian Elections: We have always known who the winner was going to be, but who are the losers?

Unofficial results in the Armenian Elections show a victory for the incumbent Serzh Sargsyan, with around 59% of the votes cast. Raffi Hovhanessian is runner up with around 37%

The 6th presidential Election of independent Armenia was held on Monday 18th February 2013. There was never any doubt who was going to win this election, but candidates, voters, election officials, journalists and observers – local and international, went through the necessary motions to conduct what technically was a good election ritual. A few of the seven candidates did not play the game according to the established rules and there was, a still unexplained, attempt on the life of another. One of the original eight candidates registered pulled out completely. The process was calm, peaceful, efficient and largely transparent. But while we always knew who the winner of this election was going to be, the question of who were going to be the losers was not always that clear.

Some may say that the six candidates who challenged incumbent President Serzh Sargsyan were losers because they did not win the presidency. The fact that none of them expected to win mitigates the pain, but more than that some have come out stronger. Raffi Hovhanessian, the candidate who was primed as the most likely to get the runner up slot used the campaign to establish himself as a politician of national stature which will serve him in good stead in the future. Andreas Ghukasian who spent the whole election campaign on hunger strike in protest at what he perceived to be a flawed process, earned the respect of many and will in future be one of the icons for those opposing the current government.

There are however three clear losers in this election: the first are the Armenian people. They deserved to have a competitive choice to choose from. This election hardly gave them that, although there was plenty of opportunity for a protest vote to express itself.

The second, perhaps biggest losers are the current leaders of the Armenian opposition. Their inability to coalesce, their failure to guide their supporters properly in an important electoral process, their decision not to field candidates for the election and their mixed messages as to whether the electorate should vote or not, reflects badly on them, and if their objective was to highlight problems with the Armenian political process, they have, by their actions, now become part of those problems.

The third loser in this election is the one who is declared winner. Serzh Sargsyan needed a proper election that would give him a clear mandate to tackle in his second term the serious problems that the country is facing. In his first term he was distracted by the circumstances immediately following his election, something for which he may or may not have been responsible. Sargsyan can still be the president that Armenia needs at the moment. He may prove that by moving quickly to implement serious changes that are desperately needed. How the experience of this election will impact his decisions is still early to say.

There is in this story an important what if question. What if Vartan Oscanian had not been put under a dubious investigation last summer, and what if his Party had decided to back him as a presidential candidate, what if other opposition parties had decided to back him as a candidate of national unity? We will now never know the answers to these questions.

Some respected Armenian analysts are characterising this election as the end of an era, the last hurrah of the present generation of Armenian politicians. A new generation of leaders will fight it out next time round. Perhaps. But many things can happen between now and the next election cycle and Armenia hardly has the luxury for long pauses in its political evolution.