The republic is divided into thirty-seven districts, or gavarner, each of which has a legislative and administrative branch replicating the national structures. Pending adoption of a new constitution prescribing a division of power, however, all major decisions are made by the central government and are merely implemented by the district administrations.
During Armenia's seventy years as a Soviet republic, only one party, the Communist Party of Armenia (CPA), was allowed legal status. As a branch of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, it ruled under the direct orders of the leadership in Moscow. Following the collapse of communist authority, two major parties and dozens of minor ones competed for popularity along with the remnants of the CPA.
In the years following independence, the most vocal and powerful opposition party was the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF). Founded in 1890, the ARF was the ruling party in the Republic of Armenia in 1918-20; forbidden under the communist regimes, the ARF built a strong support network in the Armenian diaspora. When the party again became legal in 1991, its foreign supporters enabled it to gain influence in Armenia out of proportion to its estimated membership of 40,000. With a platform calling for a coalition government, greater power for the parliament at the expense of the executive, and a strong social welfare program, the ARF gained eighteen seats in the 1992 parliamentary election.
The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), founded in 1921, calls for privatizing the economy and rapidly establishing all possible conditions for a free-market economy. It also backs a strong system of state social welfare and recognition of NagornoKarabakh 's independence. The LDP had seventeen seats in parliament in 1994.
Former dissident Pariur Hairikian heads the National Self-Determination Union, which has called for a coalition government based on proportional representation of each party. With only one seat in parliament, the union takes a radical-right position on most issues. Extreme nationalist parties with racist ideologies also have small followings. Most opposition parties have been critical of Ter-Petrosian's Nagorno-Karabakh policy; in 1992 they formed the so-called National Alliance to coordinate their foreign policy positions. Because of parliament's institutional weakness, oppositionists frequently have organized massive public rallies demanding the president's resignation.
In the first years of independence, the ruling elite came primarily from the Armenian Pannational Movement (APM), the umbrella organization that grew out of the Karabakh movement. In the 1992 parliamentary election, the APM gained fifty-five seats, easily giving it a plurality but leaving it vulnerable when opposition coalitions formed on individual issues. The next largest delegation, that of the ARF, had twelve seats. In 1993 the failure of Ter-Petrosian's government to bring the war to an end, its own willingness to compromise on the Karabakh question, and the daily grind of fuel and food shortages reduced the popularity of the ruling nationalist movement.
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