Monday, 22 July 2019

E Editorial

Free Elections in a Clanish Society

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Since the mechanism of free elections has taken root in Armenia, the public has not ceased to be surprised at the appearance of unusual electoral phenomena in political life. Thus, after the elections of the Council of Elders of Yerevan that took place in 2018 and the early parliamentary elections, special interest was aroused by the fact that the voters had no enthusiasm in political parties. At that time, the absolute majority of the parties were ignored by voters - attention was paid only to Nikol Pashinyan’s “revolutionary” electoral list and oligarch Gagik Tsarukyan’s list. Later, when local government elections were held, many were surprised by the fact that voters were indifferent to the candidates from the ruling party, giving priority to candidates of local clans. So it was in the elections of mayors in Kapan and Abovyan.

That all elections were held in the conditions of free will of voters - no one doubts. But few could manage to understand the "strange" behavior of voters. Most often, the reason for this is considered to be a drop in the rating of Premier Pashinyan, or the unpopularity of candidates from the ruling party. Sometimes it is said that "the revolution has not reached the locales." Perhaps, these factors are taking place, but, as it seems, the key reasons for the not entirely clear attitude of the voters to this or that election are in another place. Namely: voters are always pragmatic, and their choice depends on what tasks they see in a particular case.

In national elections, voters prefer the "revolution," having the task of preventing the revenge of the previous regime. However, the very image of the overthrown regime is perceived by them extremely abstractly. That's the whole mystery. At the local level, voters have completely different tasks - the preference is given to the real masters of the situation. And it doesn’t matter who these bosses are. It is remembered how in the election of the mayor of Hrazdan, voters gave preference to the son of a member of the ruling party Sasun Mikayelian, although the party itself refused to support this nomination. In Abovyan, those who in the parliamentary elections gave the majority of votes to the ruling party, elected the candidate from the local oligarchic clan as mayor.

Most likely, we are dealing with a quite stable trend. And this is evidence that the phenomenon of free elections has radically changed the logic of political processes in the country. This logic is dictated by combining the freedom of choice with the clan thinking of society. This kind of thinking defines in a very peculiar way what is “ours” and who is “ours.” In conditions where admission to the elections can be obtained by anyone who formally represents a particular party, but in fact is an influential person in some territory, freedom of expression can lead to an even greater degree of cronyism in society.

The right to participate in elections should be prohibitive enough. Politicians seeking to achieve such a right must demonstrate to the state and society their conformity with the status of a civil servant. The current law on parties and the Electoral Code create conditions for any clan and any adventurer to gain access to participate in elections. These laws do not impose any responsibility on those who receive the right to participate in elections.

In such conditions, free elections can encourage adventurism at all levels. Voters will always be disoriented. It is impossible in the new conditions to live under the old laws. For quite a long time this circumstance in Armenia is not understood. But life itself begins to ponder here...

The Armenian Center for National and International Studies

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Yerevan, Armenia

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