by Anna Ryzhova
CRRC-Armenia International Fellow
In political science, there are two classical reasons, that underpin a concern about electoral turnout. The first concern is connected with legitimacy and governability – low turnout can erode the legitimacy of a regime. The second concern is related to representation – low levels of electoral participation can result in an unrepresentative outcome. In Armenia, according to the last opinion poll before the Parliamentary Snap Elections which took place on the 9th of December 2018, 75,7% of respondents confirmed that they were going to vote on the upcoming elections. These numbers were also backed by general enthusiasm about the new government and elections – 82% of respondents of the pre-election poll conducted by IRI expressed a positive attitude towards the recent change of government in Armenia. And still, according to the chairman of Armenia’s Central Electoral Commission, the final voter turnout on the 9th of December reached 48,63%, which is considered as the lowest turnout in any countrywide elections of Armenia since 1991 Independence Referendum. In regard to that, this article aims to answer the following questions: what are the reasons that underpin the voters’ turnout on recent snap parliamentary elections in Armenia and can it be considered low due to these reasons?
If we refer to the reasons for the final turnout, given by the officials, the Chairman of Armenia’s Central Electoral Commission saw bad weather as a reason for morning passive participation, while the acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan pointed at the lack of intrigue of these elections, as well as the absence of the so-called dead or absent voters.
While these reasons most likely had their influence on the final turnout, according to Hrant Mikaelian, an independent researcher, the real voters’ turnout was in fact considerably higher and it can be estimated up to 65,2%. According to his calculations, the official number of inhabitants in Armenia (2969000) is approximately 200000 higher than the real number of inhabitants (according to him, the real number comprises 2793000 persons, approximately 28000 of whose are not Armenian citizens) due to high rates of emigration from Armenia. Since the number of voters in Armenia makes approximately 74,5% of the population, according to his estimations the number of voters was close to 2018000. Moreover, according to him, diminished voter’s turnout can serve as a proof that the so-called “administrative resource” was almost not mobilized, as well electoral bribing of voters most likely did not take place, confirming that the elections were fair. As for the discrepancy between the results of the pre-election poll and the real number of voters, Mr Mikaelian claims that this is a usual situation when people overestimate their electoral activity, which results in surveys giving much more optimistic prognoses than the actual outcomes.
It is still highly contested even among political scientists, whether a low turnout is a serious threat to democracy or whether a low turnout does manifest it and not actually have a significant effect on it. I would argue that it heavily depends on the context. In Armenian context, when international observers e.g. OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, the CIS Observation mission, as well as independent observers e.g. European Platform For Democratic Elections (EPDE) state that the elections were transparent and open, it doesn’t seem relevant to question whether the elections were democratic based only on the voters’ turnout that is considered low. Moreover, the question of whether turnout was really low remains open in light of the calculations on the real number of voters present in Armenia.
by Anna Ryzhova
CRRC-Armenia International Fellow
On the 20th of November, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Resident Representative for Armenia Yulia Ustyugova gave a presentation of the recent “Caucasus and Central Asia Regional Economic Outlook” in Yerevan. This presentation was dedicated to both global and local challenges and opportunities that the current economic situation brings. The presentation has started with a brief overview of the economic situation in the world.
The global economic environment undergoes through certain changes, and these changes are not always positive. This is due to the number of factors, that include trade tensions (e.g. the tariffs that the United States put on China), financial tensions and other factors such as geopolitical tensions (e.g. sanctions against Russia, Iran). As a result, according to the IMF, the global growth for 2018 is predicted to be 3,7%, which is relatively good but still 0,2% lower than it was previously expected. In general, it can serve as a sign that global growth prospects have a tendency to weaken.
According to the IMF, GDP growth has decelerated in Armenia as well. On Chart 1, it is visible that investment and consumption have experienced a major decrease in the second and the third quarter of 2018. Chart 2 shows this tendency in terms of composition – likewise, in the third quarter, the agriculture had been on the downside, while trade and services remain strong and served as a pillar of economic growth in the third quarter of 2018.
Still, Armenia’s GDP growth is estimated 6% for this year. Even though Ms Ustyugova noted that this prognosis is a bit on the upside as earlier the growth of Armenian economy was estimated 3,4%, the speaker reassured that achieving 6% GDP growth for Armenia is possible this year.
By Elize Manoukian,
As a result of a concerted effort by the Armenian government, humanitarian aid organizations, and resilient individuals and families, successful economic integration has been a reality for many of the 22,000 Syrian Armenians who initially sought refuge in Armenia since the outset of the brutal and unending Syrian Civil War (GIZ, 2016). The unexpected arrival of migrants has completely changed the fabric of Armenian urban life, infusing visible energy and human potential into the nation’s densely-packed capital, Yerevan.
The experiences of Syrian-Armenian immigrants residing in Armenia’s outer regions, however, appeared within a blindspot. This group is smaller and more isolated–current estimates suggest as few as 2% of asylum seekers live in Armenia’s regions–subsequently, much less is known about their economic and social needs, and how to facilitate their opportunity. Following CRRC-Armenia’s previous GIZ-funded research on the economic needs of Syrian Armenians in the capital, a project is currently underway to learn more about the economic and social integration process as it is experienced outside of Yerevan. Through data collection on the lived experience for the 400 Syrian Armenians who have settled in rural areas, future interventions can be developed that better target individuals and families who have fallen outside the current reach of aid and assistance.
One critical part of this research is a survey of the socio-economic status (SES) of Syrian Armenians living in the regions. This begs the question as to which measurement scale should be used by researchers to conceptualize SES for a refugee population. Furthermore, what if this community is striving to integrate within the economic context of a developing nation, and has varying and uneven experiences of integration?
To develop a survey, CRRC looks to the expanding field of study of SES research methodologies and approaches from international research. These conceptual approaches deconstruct the gold standard for measuring SES-occupation, education, and income–to better reflect the particularities of the refugee experience. For example, a gradient approach to SES, one that observes socioeconomic status as related to worsening employment, would more accurately reflect better account for how a refugee fleeing a country for political reasons might accept work that is not commensurate with the level of education attained in their home country.
The case study of Syrian Armenians refugees offers a myriad of examples in which a multi-fold dynamic of SES indicators–such as gender and economic opportunity available within the host country (or lack thereof)–come into play. In Syria, for example, many families could sustain themselves with one male, “breadwinner” per household. In Armenia, which still retains the Soviet model of a two-breadwinner household, being a two-earner family is frequently not a choice but a necessity; in the post-Soviet space, to opt out of this model risks poverty. This presents the challenge of overcoming the economic exclusion of Syrian Armenian women, some who face serious difficulties adjusting to the realities of a two-earner model economy.
In conclusion, we found that there is no one measure that can concretely determine SES; Instead, researchers must rely on thorough, and specifically defined survey questions that assess the unique needs of the population, and carefully adjust the theoretical dimensions of the study to capture and describe stark differences that can exist within the same “community” at the same or different times. Collecting this information can greatly improve our understanding of the context in which refugee SES operates, allowing us to more accurately reflect the trauma of poverty, gendered and income inequalities, integration challenges for youth, women, and the elderly, as well as other barriers to the economic and social success of Syrian Armenians who have sought refuge in Armenia. Shining a light on these blind spots will not only lend nuance to the discussion of integration of Syrian Armenian refugees, but will directly guide efforts to build safer and stronger communities for the world’s most vulnerable.
Bearing this in mind, obstacles contributing to Armenia’s gender inequality in the political sphere (111 out of 144) are gender stereotypes, gender roles, women’s lack of economic independence and the overall political culture. What outlook can we give on their rigidity after the ‘Velvet Revolution’ and following its aftermath?
Women’s participation in politics is supposedly also held back by their lack of economic independence. In fact, the 2016 report of the International Labor Organization (ILO) shows that among post-Soviet countries Armenia has the highest unemployment rate of women. According to the data 17.5 percent of Armenian women among those over 25 years old are unemployed. Based on a model of the ILO, the World Bank estimates that female unemployment will be augmenting over the course of the next years. Tajikistan which ranks just before Armenia in this report, for comparison has only 10.5 percent of women who face unemployment. For further comparison in the South Caucasus, Georgia has 8.9 percent, while in Azerbaijan it is 6 percent. But when analyzing the 2017’s GGGR CountryScorecard [Figure 2] one can tell that Armenia ranks above average in the sectors of “educational attainment” (42 out of 144) and “economic participation and opportunity” (71 out of 144).
Figure 2: The Global Gender Gap Report Country Scorecard of Armenia.
In this graphic the Armenian scores in the sectors of Economy, Education, Health and Politics are compared with the 2017 average score of all evaluated countries.
The economic situation can thus be considered as minor obstacle to women’s participation in politics, a part from the electoral deposit prescribed in the Armenian Electoral Code. Furthermore, female politicians need to undergo a long process of proving their right to a prominent spot in public life. This reflects the general political culture in Armenia. The World ValuesSurvey, wave 2010-2014, indicates that more than 3 out of 5 Armenians believe that men make better politicians than women*.
There is a tendency though, showing that the better the education the stronger the opposition to this statement. When cross tabulating the statement by the different educational categories, one perceives that from the divisions of “no formal education”, “primary school”, “secondary (university preparatory)” to “university degree” the overall percentage negation of the statement raises from 0, through 18 and 27 percent to 30 percent. [Figure 3] Remarkable though is that this comes from women only. When including the variable “respondent’s sex” in a regression model, one observes that men’s approval rests at a stable 70 percent, whilst women’s approval diminishes from the same percentage, to 43% for women with a university degree. [Figure 4]
Figure 3: World Values Survey Wave 6 (2010-2014) Cross Tabulation of the statement “On the whole, men make better political leaders than women do” by highest educational level attained
Figure 4: World Values Survey Wave 6 (2010-2014)
Cross Tabulation of the statement “On the whole, men make better political leaders than women do” by respondent’s gender.
Figure 5: Caucasus Barometer 2017 Armenia
Cross Tabulation of the question “Highest level of education you have achieved” by age group.