After a quarter of a century of ‘transitioning’ to democracy, Armenia remains at best a partly free ‘managed’ democracy and at worst a semi-consolidated authoritarian regime. The country has high levels of poverty and inequality (over 30% of Armenians live under the poverty line, with 47% of those aged 15 and above being unemployed) and the discontent with the status quo has led to continual emigration since the early 1990s and mass protests over recent years. In the immediate aftermath of the election on 2 April, in which the ruling Republican (Hanrapetakan) Party of Armenia, received nearly 50% of the vote, questions have been raised as to why, despite growing discontent with the political and socio-economic status quo, including the unresolved conflict in Nagorno Karabakh, so many Armenian citizens appear to have given their support to the ruling party?
There is now something of an air of resignation among some segments of Armenian civil society, coupled with frustration, disillusionment, and a growing realisation that the majority of Armenian citizens are not interested in democracy and human rights, and are indeed prepared to sell their votes to the highest bidder, even if that means returning the ruling regime to power.
Since independence, elections have been used as benchmarks in measuring the level of democratisation in Armenia and other post-Soviet countries, as well as for assessing the progress these countries have made in their transitions to democracy. A great deal of time and money has been spent on training, preparation, and the observation and monitoring of elections by donors, intergovernmental organisations and NGOs over the past 25 years. But this fetishisation of elections, and in particular of the election day itself, ignores the wider political and social dynamics which can and do influence voter behaviour.