It is not possible to say that there has been a level playing field in the Armenian Parliamentary Elections Campaign of the past weeks. Some parties could make use of administrative resources, and others of financial resources not available to their competitors. But an active media, and the ability to use time on television for all parties, enabled all contestants to put across their message to the electorate.
The media in the elections divided into three streams. The printed media has close association with the political parties and in many cases this was reflected in its coverage of the elections. New media: websites and news portals provided a broad spectrum of opinion and were perhaps the most free and active in the campaign. Some web-based media outlets had television programmes included on their sites which complimented the coverage of the regular TV stations. These sites however have limited audiences.
As usual the most important role was played by television stations. Though largely controlled by government, the stations by and large followed guidelines for balanced reporting once the election campaign started. The fact that all parties had free air time, and also the possibility of purchasing a certain amount of paid air time, helped a lot in enabling the message of all parties to get across to the electorate.
All the major parties held rallies in the centre of Yerevan, and in other parts of the countries. These events were usually well attended and often accompanied by musical entertainment. The campaign nearly ended in tragedy when in the last hours of campaigning on May 4th an incident occurred at the final rally of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia. Balloons that had been filled with helium exploded throwing a ball of fire on the largely young crowd. Several dozen people suffered severe burns although miraculously no one died, and most of those injured were released from hospitals a few days later.
There were some small incidents of violence but on the whole the campaign was peaceful. The tone was not always positive and there were some personal attacks on candidates and politicians.
Armenia’s president Serzh Sargsyan led from the front. He participated in numerous activities of his Republican Party (RPA) addressing voters on a range of domestic and local issues. The role of local governors and district administrations remains controversial. Many have been accused of supporting the ruling party not only through the use of administrative resources but also through intimidation of voters.
The full engagement of all the main political forces in the election campaign has helped give credibility to the election process and is definitely a positive factor.