By Anna Saghabalian
The ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) faced on Wednesday more opposition allegations that it is increasingly relying on “criminal elements” to retain and bolster its strong presence in the government.
Representatives of leading Armenian opposition parties said at a roundtable meeting in Yerevan that the recent influx of more wealthy and influential individuals into the HHK bodes ill for the freedom and fairness of the forthcoming parliamentary elections.
“Pro-government forces have, of course, used criminal elements before,” said Stepan Zakarian of the opposition People’s Party of Armenia (HZhK). “Now they are merging with those elements within the framework of that party.”
“An attempt is being made to drive ideology out of the political field,” he added.
“The political field is infested with criminal thinking, not to mention criminal elements,” agreed Paruyr Hayrikian, a prominent Soviet-era dissident and veteran politician who leads a smaller opposition party called the National Self-Determination Union.
The statements echoed serious concern voiced by former parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian at the weekend about what he described as a growing involvement of reputed crime figures in political processes in Armenia. He was understood to refer to individuals that joined the HHK this summer along with Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian.
Most of the new HHK recruits are wealthy businessmen reliant on government connections. Some are notorious for their nicknames that have long sullied their reputations. Their political and economic clout is seen as an additional boost to the HHK’s plans to secure victory in the 2007 elections.
Mher Shahgeldian, deputy chairman of Baghdasarian’s Orinats Yerkir party, claimed that they represent an additional obstacle to Armenia’s democratization. “We must fight against that,” he told fellow oppositionists.
Hayrikian, who initiated the discussion, called for the creation of a broad-based alliance of “ideology-carrying parties.” He said he is “surprised” by the absence of representatives of another governing party, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), among roundtable participants.
Dashnaktsutyun leaders have repeatedly expressed concern at the increased role of “apolitical elements” in government affairs. The HZhK’s Zakarian warned that the nationalist party will risk being “forced to serve those criminalized forces” if it fails to cooperate with the Armenian opposition.
(Photolur photo: Prime Minister Andranik Markarian addresses an HHK congress on July 22.)