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By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Armenia’s largest governing party led by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian began on Monday what appears to be a mass recruitment of public school personnel that will be expected to campaign for its victory in next year’s parliamentary election.

The first group of more than 100 school principals and teachers were admitted to the Republican Party (HHK) at a high-profile ceremony attended by Markarian. Each of them was handed an identification document and a lapel pin certifying their membership in the HHK. Republican leaders said more such ceremonies will be held on a regular basis in the coming months.

Markarian congratulated the new, mainly female entrants, expressing hope that they will “instill” in their students ideas that are in tune with the party’s “nationalist-conservative” orientation. He admitted that they will also have to help the HHK retain the largest faction in the National Assembly after the 2007 election.

“They are members of the party and naturally they must do that,” Markarian told reporters. “Not inside their schools but in their surroundings. Kids have no right to vote, after all.”

But the Armenian premier did make it clear that teachers affiliated with the HHK will be specifically expected to promote his party among the parents of those children. “Why not?” he said.

Armenian law explicitly forbids the spread of any partisan or political propaganda inside public schools, universities and other state-run institutions. However, the ban has rarely been enforced in practice, with civil servants and other public sector employees routinely constrained to assist in the pre-election campaigns of pro-government presidential and parliamentary candidates.

Many precinct-level election commissions in Armenia are headed by school principals. Some of them have been implicated in instances of serious fraud reported by media and election observers.

In deciding to enlist teacher support, the HHK follows the example of parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian’s Orinats Yerkir Party, which is also represented in the government and effectively controls the Ministry of Science and Education. Orinats Yerkir has a successful experience in co-opting school staffs for electoral purposes. Many of them might now defect to the HHK, which has greater administrative and financial resources.

Relations between the two governing parties have been strained of late.

(Photolur photo: Markarian congratulating one of the teachers joining the HHK.)
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