Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) leader Gagik Tsarukian accused local government officials on Friday of pressuring Armenians and telling them who to vote for in next month’s parliamentary elections.
“Regional governors, town and village mayors are trying to force you to vote for one or another party,” Tsarukian told an election campaign rally in Yeghegnadzor, capital of the southeastern Vayots Dzor province.
“Never do such a thing,” he said. “They are doing that to strengthen their positions. You should understand that. Nobody can force you because you don’t break the law. You are fulfilling your duty.”
Although Tsarukian named no names, he seemed to refer to President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK), the BHK’s senior coalition partner that controls most of Armenia’s local governments. HHK-affiliated local government chiefs have long been accused by the opposition of illegally using their administrative resources to earn the ruling party votes.
Some opposition groups say the BHK has also capitalized on its presence in the central and local governments for the same purpose. Incidentally, Vayots Dzor’s governor, Sergei Bagratian, is a member of Tsarukian’s party.
Bagratian attended and addressed the BHK rally in Yeghegnadzor. He announced that Tsarukian has donated ten agricultural tractors to the wine-growing area.
Six of those tractors were parked in a town square where the rally took place. BHK campaign posters were plastered to their windscreens.
Tsarukian claimed that the donation was planned months before the parliamentary race and has nothing to do with the May 6 elections. “We don’t need votes. Gagik Tsarukian simply wants the people to be better off,” said the tycoon.
Some in the crowd did not buy into that. “If he had such noble goals, he should have given [the tractors] earlier or after the elections,” one man told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
“This is not vote buying, this is benevolence,” disagreed another local resident. “If they pay their taxes in full, we won’t need their benevolence,” countered the skeptical voter.
Tsarukian’s controversial charitable work, which has included distribution of relief aid to farmers, has raised eyebrows in Armenia ever since the BHK began its political activities in 2006. Critics, notably the opposition Zharangutyun party, say that the practice amounts to vote buying.
Speaking to journalists in Yeghegnadzor, Tsarukian also distanced himself from strong criticism of the Sarkisian government that is being voiced by former Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, who is second on the BHK’s list of elections candidates. “Today [Oskanian] is expressing his personal opinion,” he said. “We are not playing a children’s game. Everyone is expressing his views and ideas to the public.”
“During the campaign everyone says what he thinks,” added the BHK leader.
Oskanian criticized Sarkisian’s and the HHK’s “political monopoly” on Friday as he campaigned for the BHK in the northwestern Shirak province. “Because of the political monopoly not everyone in Armenia is equal before the law,” he said at a meeting with voters in the town of Akhurian.