By Hovannes Shoghikian
The Republican and Prosperous Armenia parties, the two main winners of the May 12 parliamentary elections, spent more on their election campaigns than is allowed by law, Armenia’s leading anti-corruption watchdog said on Thursday.
The Armenian Election Code limits campaign spending by a single party or bloc to 60 million drams ($170,000). The governing Republican Party (HHK) and the pro-presidential Prosperous Armenia (BHK) have been accused by their rivals of exceeding these ceilings. The latter pointed to hundreds of expensive billboards and banners and many hours of televised commercials that promoted the two parties in the run-up to the elections.
The Center for Regional Development (CRD), the Armenian affiliate of the global anti-corruption organization Transparency International, gave weight to these allegations as it presented the results of its campaign expenditure monitoring conducted in Armenia’s three largest cities: Yerevan, Gyumri, and Vanadzor. The HHK and the BHK were found to have spent 79 million drams and 129.6 million drams respectively in those cities alone. They were followed by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (50.7 million drams) and the opposition Orinats Yerkir (33 million drams) and Zharangutyun (24 million) drams parties.
“These are only conservative estimates,” said Amalia Kostanian, the CRD chairwoman. “We did not take into account many other campaign expenditures. Also, we used only official prices [of printing and advertising services] and other information in cases where they were available. In all other cases, we used minimum rates in our calculations.”
Kostanian said the CRD calculations are also based on the assumption that the BHK and the HHK spent nothing on their several hundred campaign offices across Armenia and pop music concerts that preceded many of their campaign rallies. “We trusted those local singers that said they are supporting one or another party free of charge,” she told a news conference.
Both parties, which will control the vast majority of seats in parliament, denied the claims. “The Republican Party did not surpass the 60 million-dram limit and conducted its campaign in accordance with Armenian law,” said Eduard Sharmazanov, the HHK spokesman.
The BHK spokesman Baghdasar Mherian claimed that the party led by Gagik Tsarukian, the country’s reputedly wealthiest businessman, spent only about 46 million drams on its election campaign. “I don’t know what methodology that organized used,” he said.
Under the Election Code, the HHK, the BHK and all other election contenders have to submit detailed expenditure reports to a Central Election Commission (CEC) division tasked with ensuring their compliance with the campaign funding caps. The head of the division, Ara Harutiunian, told RFE/RL that it has received and is now looking into those reports. He refused to comment on the findings of the anti-graft watchdog.
In a separate report, the CRD said it did not take into account vote bribes allegedly handed out by the pro-establishment parties. “During the project implementation, there were many people reporting instances of vote bribes throughout the country to the monitoring team,” it said. “However, citizens were scared to be a witness of such crimes, and it was not possible to record the reported bribery cases and calculate how much was spent by parties for those ‘expenses.”