By Karine Kalantarian and Hovannes Shoghikian
The governing Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) said on Thursday that it expects to garner at least one third of the vote in next month’s parliamentary elections, something which would almost certainly earn it the largest faction in the next National Assembly.
“Our campaign meetings show that the majority of our citizens are ready to vote for the Republican Party of Armenia,” the HHK spokesman, Eduard Sharmazanov, told journalists. “The Republican Party of Armenia plans to get at least one third of the vote.”
The HHK, which is now led by Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian, won about 24 percent of the party list vote in the last parliamentary elections that were criticized as undemocratic by international observers. With Republican-backed candidates doing even better in single-mandate constituencies, that allowed the party to control, both directly and indirectly, at least 50 of the 131 seats in the outgoing National Assembly.
Some HHK leaders have said the party can improve on that performance and even grab an absolute majority of parliament seats in the new legislature.
Opposition leaders maintain that the HHK can not achieve that without massive vote rigging and vote buying. Some of them say it will try to win the May 12 elections at any cost in order to set the stage for Sarkisian’s successful participation in next year’s presidential ballot. The Republicans dismiss such claims, saying that they will contribute to the proper conduct of the vote.
Sarkisian made no mention of his party’s electoral chances as he met hundreds of residents of Yerevan’s central administrative district later on Thursday. He assured them that he is committed to combating widespread government corruption.
The HHK’s election targets may put it at odds with another election frontrunner, the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) of businessman Gagik Tsarukian, which is believed to be sponsored by President Robert Kocharian. Some BHK figures have predicted that the party will poll at least 370,000 votes matching the official number of its members.
Official results of the 2003 elections, rejected as fraudulent even by some pro-Kocharian groups, showed the HHK getting less than 300,000 votes.
Armenian newspaper reports have said that local government officials across the country are forcing public sector employees to join and vote for the HHK or risk losing their jobs and warning people not to support the opposition.
Stepan Demirchian, the leader of the opposition People’s Party of Armenia (HZhK) was reminded of the HHK’s pervasive “administrative resources” as he campaigned in the Gegharkunik region on Thursday. Authorities in the regional town of Martuni refused to allow him to meet supporters in the local conference hall. The Demirchian campaign was also unable to use sound amplifiers in the main town square due to a sudden power cut.
Many in the small crowd that gathered there claimed that they were warned not to attend the meeting. “All teachers, doctors and other budget-funded employees here are Republicans,” said one man. “They are too scared to come here.”
“You won’t find a single public sector employee here because they are not allow to go to opposition meetings,” said a resident of the nearby village of Vartenik. “Even pensioners and recipients of poverty benefits were warned not to show up.”