Armenia: Will Presidential Inauguration Spell Double Trouble?
Armenians on April 9 can choose which of two presidential inaugurations they wish to attend; a choice which could take the divided country to the next stage of the protracted power struggle between Serzh Sargsyan, the official president-elect, and Raffi Hovhannisian, the feel-good opposition leader who says he just wants an oath for "a new Armenia."
Sargsyan and Hovhannisian have tried to keep their joust peaceful, but, given Armenia's history of post-election violence, tension is in the air. Sargsyan’s inauguration will take place in the National Assembly with foreign dignitaries, officials and clergymen in attendance. Hovhannisian, in the meantime, has invited the discontented to gather at Yerevan’s central Liberty Square for “a little bit of song and dance” -- a frequent occurrence at Armenian opposition rallies -- followed by a formal declaration of the "people’s" (ergo, Hovhannisian’s) victory, and a march .
The legitimacy of either event is in the eyes of the beholder. Many in Armenia, worn out by a sour economy and political strife, have had enough of Sargsyan for the past five years and say they saw enough election fraud during the February presidential vote to accuse him of pocketing another term. But many others contend that Hovhannisian is just a sore loser.
The two ceremonies, therefore, most likely will largely be an exercise in outnumbering and outshouting each other.
“Mr. Sargsyan and the ruling party…have confused themselves with the state,” the California-born Hovhannisian told RFE/RL in a live video interview. He called the Sargsyan swearing-in unconstitutional and un-Christian, noted that he'd urged his rival "to get real," and invited the president-elect to come to Liberty Square for what he termed a day of national unity. As a way to defuse tensions, Hovannisian has proposed to Sargsyan that they both quit fighting and have a rerun vote.
That and other Hovannisian proposals have been dismissed as delusional, but with Hovannisian, now off his hunger strike, trying to drum up support across the country, and some sizable opposition forces (the Prosperous Armenia Party, the Armenian National Congress) still sitting on the fence, Sargsyan has not ignored him.
Yet while Sargsyan, mindful of the ten deaths that followed the 2008 presidential elections, has been emphasizing communication over conflict, he already has secured international acceptance of his victory and, arguably, has the state machinery on his side.
At this point, a joining of hands and a singing of "Kumbaya" in the center of Yerevan is far less likely than the continuance of Armenia's chronic case of national disunity.