By Ruzanna Stepanian
Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian insisted on Friday he will not force tens of thousands of army conscripts to vote for his Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) in the upcoming parliamentary elections.
“I rule that out,” Sarkisian said. “Nobody will be forced to vote. It is possible that some officers may try to do campaigning and direct soldier's sympathy to one or another party.”
“If anybody engages in party propaganda in the army and we learn that, it will be their last day [in the armed forces],” he added.
Military voting has been a major source of irregularities in presidential and parliamentary elections held in Armenia over the past decade. Local and foreign observers have reported numerous instances of soldiers forced to vote for incumbent presidents and governing parties under the watchful eyes of their commanders. Opposition parties fear that the next elections, which will be critical for the success of Sarkisian’s presidential ambitions, will also be marred by such violations.
Speaking at a news conference, Sarkisian argued that the army’s votes are nowhere near enough to win the elections due in May. He claimed that he has never issued election-related orders to his subordinates. “I have been defense minister for nine years, and if any commander says that I instructed him to vote for a particular party, then I am the most dishonest man in the world,” he said.
But Sarkisian made it clear at the same time that he believes many Armenian army officers support him and will readily vote for the HHK. “There is nothing wrong with the army commanders sharing the defense minister’s views,” he said. “It would be much worse if the defense minister believed in one thing and the officers in another. The society must only be happy with the fact that the minister enjoys authority in the army,”
One of the recently enacted amendments to Armenia’s electoral code is aimed at preventing multiple voting by military personnel. It obligates members of election officials to put special stamps in the military IDs of servicemen casting ballots in their polling stations.