By Ruzanna Stepanian
Former parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian urged impoverished voters not to sell their votes to pro-government parties as he took his opposition Orinats Yerkir Party’s election campaign to the central Aragatsotn province on Wednesday.
Visiting the economically depressed regional town of Talin, Baghdasarian claimed that residents of nearby villages are being offered vote bribes worth up to 10,000 drams ($27) en masse. “By selling your votes you would sell the future of your children,” he told about 200 people attending an Orinats Yerkir campaign gathering in Talin.
“I have just been told in villages that [people there are offered] 5,000 drams, 10,000 drams per vote,” he said. “A question arises. If you divide [the figure] by 2,000 days [remaining before next elections] it will make 50 lumas (0.5 dram). Is it worth selling the honor of your family for 50 lumas a day?”
“Make a choice accordance with your conscience. Make a choice that will let your children live in a normal country,” added Baghdasarian.
Vote buying by governing parties has increasingly characterized various-level elections held in Armenia over the past decade. Many fear that the illegal practice will reach a new height during the May 12 parliamentary election. The governing Republican Party (HHK) and the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) of pro-presidential businessman Gagik Tsarukian have already been accused by their opponents of planning to hand out cash. But both parties deny the allegations.
Baghdasarian and his associates visited Talin and nearby villages the day after campaign rallies held there by the HHK’s top leader, Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian. Sarkisian gathered senior government officials in Yerevan on Wednesday to discuss numerous socioeconomic grievances voiced by local residents.
“I’m sure there are many problems which you can solve quickly,” he said, according to the Armenian government’s press office. “People must know when a particular problem will be solved. This is the only way we can enjoy [their] trust.”
Some of the disgruntled Talin voters claimed that they were too scared to confront Sarkisian with demand for the government’s resignation. “Many people here are kind of scared and call themselves Republicans to avoid getting into trouble,” said one man.
“If I criticize the party its activists will beat me up,” said another.
Other people were frustrated with the abundance of opposition parties running for parliament on their own. “If the opposition had joined forces for regime change, we might have had some expectations from these elections,” said one of them. “But nothing will change in this situation.”