With voter interest lagging in Armenia this election season, parties are trying to inject an element of show business into politics.
The names of celebrities, from both the performing arts and media, dot the slates of pro-government and opposition parties alike. Armenia’s parliamentary vote will be held May 6.
Over a dozen broadcast and print journalists are in the running for a seat in Armenia’s 131-member parliament, primarily for parties currently in power. So far, one popular singer has joined them, and some prominent TV actresses say that the governing Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) has approached them about their interest in appearing on the legislative stage.
Among the candidates for the RPA are Karen Ghazarian, the president of Sharm Holding, an advertising-media-production company. Also on the slate are public television’s First News anchor Samvel Farmanian, the privately owned Armenia TV’s commentator Gagik Mkrtchian, Armenia TV producer Vahe Ghazarian, and Aravot newspaper reporter Margarit Esaian.
The Armenian National Congress, the country’s largest opposition group, features Haikakan Zhamanak newspaper editor-in-chief Nikol Pashinian, who was imprisoned following the post-2008 presidential election clashes with police, and newspaper reporter Gayane Arustamian.
168 Hours editor-in-chief Satik Seyranian and Chorrord Inqnishkhutin reporter Gohar Vezirian are running as non-partisan candidates.
In a February survey by the polling firm Sociometer, more respondents said they were not following the elections, or had no interest at all in politics (40 percent of 1,650 respondents), than expressed support for the leading party in the governing coalition, the Republican Party (16 percent).
Another member of the governing coalition, Prosperous Armenia, headed by tycoon Gagik Tsarukian, garnered 14.7-percent support, with ex-President Levon Ter-Petrosian’s opposition Armenian National Congress at a distant 3.5 percent. The support decreased still further for government coalition member Orinats Yerkir, and the opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun, Heritage Party and Free Democrats.
Sociometer Director Aharon Adibekian commented that bringing in media and show-business figures “is definitely a PR move by which the parties are trying to boost the attractiveness of the elections [for voters].”
Some Armenian analysts agree, adding that the introduction of celebrity candidates may also be an attempt to move away from the clubby atmosphere of parliament in which politicians, when present, nap or play games on their computers.
“When political parties lack authority in the eyes of ordinary people, and trust toward them is decreasing, political parties try to make use of the situation by introducing figures outside of politics -- intellectuals, singers, artists, who will, in fact, act as props,” argued independent political analyst Yervand Bozoyan.
Pop singer Shushan Petrosyan, a candidate on the RPA slate, says she is taking her candidacy duties as seriously as any stage appearance. “They say I'm romantic, but I want to introduce real changes,” Petrosyan insisted. A frequent participant in past RPA campaign videos and concerts, she said that she intends to focus on cultural issues in parliament, and looks on her mission as “a creative one.”
The entertainer ranks 16th in the Republican Party of Armenia’s list of candidates, right after Gen. Manvel Grigoryan, a onetime deputy defense minister who is often likened to a feudal lord for his extensive business interests and military connections. The number of individuals on the party list who actually become MPs will be based on the percentage of the popular vote received by the RPA.
Some Yerevan voters are befuddled by Petrosyan’s candidacy. “I cannot understand what Shushan Petrosyan is going to get out of being in parliament,” commented 41-year-old shop clerk Lida Avagian. “Better for her to keep singing.”
Reporter-turned-politician Naira Zohrabian, a senior Prosperous Armenia Party MP who, like Pashinian, once worked with this reporter at Haikakan Zhamanak, says she also does not understand why entertainment industry figures are now interested in running for parliament. At the same time, she asserted that journalists have a justifiable reason for doing so.
“The current parliament is just disastrous in terms of political quality,” said Zohrabian. “I think this was a pragmatic calculation . . . Taking into account the lack of orators in parliament, they try to recruit new people to their factions … [and] that is not a bad trend.”
Analysts see no problem with the idea of journalists entering politics. Journalists are at least “literate,” said independent political analyst Karen Kocharian. “These journalists are better aware of legislation.”
Marianna Grigoryan is a freelance reporter based in Yerevan.