By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Gagik Tsarukian, one of Armenia’s wealthiest and most powerful men, sought on Friday to allay concerns about his growing political ambitions, saying that he will not seek to buy his way into government in next year’s parliamentary election.
Tsarukian insisted that his recently formed party called Prosperous Armenia will capitalize on his reputation and track record, rather than financial resources, in trying to win the hearts and minds of voters. “The power of my party will come from work and faith,” he told reporters during a rare appearance in parliament, of which he is a member.
“Not everything depends on the amount of money,” he said. “You journalists say everything is down to money. But you have to put money to good use. For example, which other businessman has invested $800,000 in building a sports facility in his town?”
Tsarukian has reportedly set his party, which is due to hold its founding congress in June, the task of winning or at least making a strong showing in the 2007 parliamentary election. The tycoon close to President Robert Kocharian is trying to enlist the support of prominent public figures and even some opposition politicians for that purpose. Some observers say his entry into big politics exposes Kocharian’s lack of faith in the three parties represented in Armenia’s government.
Leaders of the governing coalition seem to be following these developments with alarm. Parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian and senior members of Prime Minister Andranik Markarian’s Republican Party have publicly expressed concern about “the growing role of money” in Armenian politics. They are understood to fear that Prosperous Armenia could resort to massive vote buying, a phenomenon which has been commonplace in recent years’ Armenian elections.
“Did Gagik Tsarukian hand out cash to a single citizen during his election [in May 2003]?” countered Armenia’s arguably most influential “oligarch.” “Ask people. I did a lot of work at the time and I will deliver on everything I’ve promised. But I didn’t give money to individual voters. And I think a normal person would not take cash to cast a ballot.”
Tsarukian also insisted that he has no intention to bribe members of election commissions in which Prosperous Armenia is not represented. “We are not going to need that,” he said.
“Socializing with the people, I can tell you that what they need the most now is attention, care and respect,” he added. “If a person trusts you, he can spend a year without electricity and gas and be confident that things will soon get better.”