By Karine Kalantarian
Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian sought to win over hundreds of thousands of elderly Armenians on Thursday, saying that their plight will improve “in the very near future” if they vote for his Republican Party (HHK).
“I am deeply convinced and want you to believe that in the near, very near future there will be visible improvements,” Sarkisian told hundreds of pensioners in Yerevan. “Your pensions and salaries will rise, you will have better healthcare, and your sons and grandsons will slowly return from abroad, and you will stop being afraid of old age.”
Nearly one quarter of the country’s 2.3 eligible voters are above the retirement age, and their votes will be crucial for the outcome of the May 12 parliamentary elections. The HHK underscored that fact by gathering more than thousand of them in one of Yerevan’s largest concert halls. In its election platform, the ruling party commits itself to more than doubling the modest average amount of their pensions to 33,500 drams ($94) within the next five years.
Sarkisian criticized other election contenders, presumably including the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), the HHK’s junior coalition partner, that have promised much steeper pension hikes if they do well in the polls. He called such pledges “fairy tales,” again emphasizing that his party’s program is “realistic.”
“Today one veteran’s bitterness or dire social condition may cast shadow on our past victory and weaken our spirit of resistance,” he said in a speech followed by a concert. “In this situation, some political forces are coming forward and promising to raise your pensions tenfold or hundredfold in order to win over you.”
Incidentally, the event was organized by Armenia’s state pension fund which is run by a senior member of the HHK. Some of the participants interviewed by RFE/RL claimed to have been tricked into attending it. Anna Hakobian, a 87-year-old veteran of the Second World War, said an official from the fund only asked her and other pensioners by phone to gather outside the Ministry of Social Security.
“We thought they wanted to give us aid,” said Hakobian. “They should have told us the truth … They duped us to come here and watch Serzh Sarkisian give us false promises,”
“They phoned me but didn’t say who is inviting me here,” said another woman.
The meeting with pensioners was not the only election-related event attended by Sarkisian on Thursday. He also met with students at Yerevan State University and led HHK campaign rallies in the city’s southern Erebuni and Shengavit districts later in the day.