By Astghik Bedevian
Businessman Gagik Tsarukian was mobbed by supporters on Tuesday as his Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), one of the favorites to win the upcoming parliamentary elections, officially kicked off its campaign with a rally in Yerevan.
Tsarukian, surrounded by bodyguards, needed about ten minutes to move through a crowd of several hundred people and step onto the podium in a square in the city’s southern Shengavit districts. Many of them tried to approach him to shake his hands or hand him letters presumably containing personal requests or grievances. The beefy tycoon’s departure from the scene was similarly slow.
Tsarukian, who is widely regarded as the country’s wealthiest government-connected “oligarch,” assured residents of the working-class area that the BHK will improve their lives if it wins the May 12 elections. But as always, his speech was short on specifics.
“I’m doing all this for the people,” he said. “I did not create the party to get a government post or make money. I’ve got everything and want everyone to live well.”
The BHK, which is believed to be sponsored by President Robert Kocharian, claims to have recruited as many as 370,000 over the past 15 months amid accusations of vote buying voiced by its rivals. Its leaders say the party will at least finish second in the polls.
As he tramped back to his motorcade, shaking supporters’ hands, Tsarukian was asked by RFE/RL to comment on his election chances. “It depends on the voters,” he replied. “Ask the people.”
The BHK’s election platform was presented to the crowd by Ishkhan Zakarian, a friend of Tsarukian’s who heads a government department on sport affairs. Zakarian claimed that once in power, the party will enact 150 laws and help to create thousands of new jobs by reopening factories closed following the Soviet collapse.
Asked by RFE/RL which concrete factories would resume their operations, Zakarian said, “Whichever you want.”
Tsarukian and his associates held a similar campaign gathering in Masis, a small town 15 kilometers south of Yerevan, later in the day.