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By Ruzanna Khachatrian and Astghik Bedevian
Three of Armenia’s leading political parties presented their manifestos to the public on Monday one day after the official start of campaigning for the May 12 parliamentary elections.

The governing Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) and the opposition Orinats Yerkir (Country of Law) and the National Unity (AMK) parties pledged to strengthen the rule of law and pay greater attention to socioeconomic problems facing Armenians if they do well in the vote.

Dashnaktsutyun leaders unveiled their election platform to hundreds of supporters who gathered in central Yerevan. Many buildings in the city center were already plastered with placards carrying the nationalist party’s campaign motto: “Our old friend is Dashnaktsutyun.” The Dashnaktsutyun-controlled Yerkir-Media television began airing video of the party’s campaign song on Sunday evening.

Dashnaktsutyun’s senior partner in the governing coalition, the Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), avoided any public events and contented itself with airing campaign advertisements on television. The HHK is widely regarded as the campaign frontrunner.

Its new leader, Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian, received Catholicos Garegin II in his office on Monday. According to the government’s press service, the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church “blessed” and congratulated Sarkisian on his appointment as prime minister.

Gagik Tsarukian, the leader of the pro-presidential Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), another top contender, reportedly visited Garegin and received a similar blessing on Sunday. Tsarukian was due to deliver a televised address to voters late on Monday.

Both the HHK and the BHK are accused by their rivals of having kicked off their election campaigns several weeks ago in violation of Armenia’s Electoral Code. But their leaders deny this.

Meanwhile, about 300 Orinats Yerkir activists gathered in a conference hall in Yerevan to attend the high-profile presentation of their party’s platform to the accompaniment of its official campaign song. The song assures Armenians that Orinats Yerkir’s founding leader, Artur Baghdasarian, “will lead us to a country of law.”

Orinats Yerkir promises, among other things, to cut taxes, combat corruption, and introduce mandatory healthcare insurance and student loans. The program also supports Armenia’s eventual membership in the European Union but stops short of calling for its accession to NATO. Baghdasarian advocated NATO membership in a newspaper interview last year.

“I’ve never spoken about Armenia’s membership in NATO,” the former parliament speaker claimed on Monday. “I’ve only spoken about deepening our ties with NATO.”

Baghdasarian also said his party is popular enough to win a “very serious percentage” of votes but avoided making more specific forecasts.

Another major opposition contender, the AMK, held a news conference to present its “anti-crisis program” that calls for a swift passage of 43 laws. Its leader, Artashes Geghamian, said they are essential for improving what he called a severe economic situation in the country.

Asked about his electoral chances, Geghamian pointed to a recent U.S.-funded opinion poll which he said put his public approval ratings at between 54 and 58 percent. “I told my colleagues that if we don’t get at least half of that support [in the elections] it will mean that we have performed very badly,” he said.

Geghamian was also unexpectedly upbeat about the freedom and fairness of the polls. He said the authorities realize that the opposition will be “unable to restrain our people” if their results are falsified.

(Photolur photo: Dashnaktsutyun supporters rally in Yerevan.)
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