By Emil Danielyan
Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian predicted that his Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) will win this week’s parliamentary elections and hit out at two other pro-establishment parties as he continued his campaign swing through Yerevan at the weekend.
“There are just a few days remaining before the elections and it is already obvious that the Republican Party of Armenia will receive a majority of votes,” he told more than a thousand supporters who gathered in the city’s northern Arabkir district on Sunday.
“That means nobody will get more votes than the Republicans,” Sarkisian said, speaking to RFE/RL after the speech. He would not specify whether the HHK expects to win an absolute majority in the new National Assembly.
Sarkisian has said before that he will be satisfied even if his party garners 25 percent of the vote. Senior Republicans now say privately that they are aiming for between 50 and 60 seats in the 131-member legislature. In particular, they expect to grab at least 22 of the 41 seats distributed in single-mandate constituencies. The other 90 seats are contested on the party list basis.
The HHK ambitions might leave it in conflict with another election frontrunner, the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) of Gagik Tsarukian, a wealthy businessman close to President Robert Kocharian. BHK leaders have said that they will get at least 400,000 votes matching the official number of the party’s members. That would almost certainly be enough to score a landslide victory in Saturday’s polls.
Sarkisian refused to comment on the BHK’s ambitious vote target. “Why do you want me attack somebody?” he told RFE/RL. “I’m not criticizing anyone. We’re just doing our job, and I think the results of our work will be visible. You too will see them.”
Still, the recently appointed premier, widely regarded as Kocharian’s heir apparent, did take a swipe at Tsarukian in his speech, without mentioning the latter by name. “Some of our rivals say they don’t need power because they’ve got everything and simply want the people to be better off,” he said, citing a statement constantly repeated by Tsarukian. “All of us want the people to be better off. But [the question is] how?”
These and other HHK rivals, continued Sarkisian, “don’t want power because they don’t know what power is” and lack a credible ideology to lead the nation. “The Republican Party’s ideology is as follows: We must always live in this world, live as Armenians,” he said. That requires a “perfect system of national security,” a strong and legitimate government, scores of new jobs, and adequate public services, he added.
Sarkisian also echoed other top Republicans’ attacks on their junior partner in the governing coalition, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), over its campaign pledge to more than triple modest state pensions. “Our rivals say they would sharply raise pensions within a few months,” he said. “We say no to that because that’s adventurism, because that could ruin the functioning system [of social security.]”
Sarkisian further urged Arabkir residents to vote for HHK candidates running for parliament in two single-mandate constituencies covering the district. He argued that the two relatively young businessmen would relay local voters’ grievances to the country’s top leaders with “lightning speed” but said nothing about their law-making abilities.
One of the candidates, Levon Sargsian, was elected to Armenia’s outgoing parliament four years ago but has rarely been spotted there by journalists. Some opposition leaders and media have branded him a crime figure, a charge denied by the HHK leadership.
The other HHK candidate in Arabkir, Zohrab Zohrabian, is primarily known for rebuilding a Soviet-era sports school for children and has not been involved in national politics until now. As part of his election campaign, Zohrabian financed the construction of a small monument dedicated to Arabkir residents who fought and died during the war with Azerbaijan. Sarkisian unveiled the monument, adjacent to the venue of the rally, right after his speech.
The mother of one of the dead soldiers was among those who spoke at the Republican rally which, as always, was preceded by a pop concert. “We can see what [Sarkisian] has done and are proud of our army. He must become our next president,” she said, drawing cheers from the crowd.
While agreeing to answer questions from RFE/RL, Sarkisian strongly criticized the broadcaster’s coverage of his election campaign and, in particular, news reports that quoted ordinary Armenians as saying that they are forced or tricked to attend HHK rallies. Similar reports have also appeared in some local newspapers.
“I very much hope that your radio station will conclude from my words that it is not objective when it quotes somebody as saying that they were forced to attend [HHK rallies,]” Sarkisian said. “You were present [at today’s rally]. How many people were forcibly brought here?”