President Serzh Sarkisian has reportedly added his voice to opposition concerns about vote buying in Armenia and instructed state prosecutors to take “additional measures” against the illegal but endemic practice.
According to his press office, Sarkisian met with Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian on Wednesday discuss “increasingly frequent concerns over vote bribes that are voiced by the public.”
“This negative phenomenon certainly casts a shadow on the legitimacy of any election, and it is incumbent on every democratic and rule-of-law state to neutralize such undesirable influence and ensure the conduct of free and fair elections,” the president was quoted as telling Hovsepian.
He added that law-enforcement authorities should therefore take “additional measures required by the situation within an objectively short period of time.” In particular, he said, they should refrain from prosecuting ordinary voters who admit taking vote bribes and agree to testify against candidates or parties distributing them.
Vote buying in the form of cash paid to voters or other material assistance provided to them or their communities has been one of the main types of irregularities alleged by Armenian opposition groups over the past decade. They say that Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK) and other pro-government groups have been increasingly reliant on the practice.
Armenia’s ongoing parliamentary election campaign has already been marred by such allegations. The HHK and its ruling coalition partners, Prosperous Armenia and Orinats Yerkir, deny them.
The country’s leading vote-monitoring organization, It’s Your Choice, said earlier this month that all three governing parties are already handing out “gifts” to voters. The head of the group, Harutiun Hambardzumian, said the material benefits include foodstuffs, alcohol, fertilizers and services such as road repairs and free busing for university students. The practice is particularly widespread in impoverished rural regions, he said.
Vote buying was a major theme of a campaign speech delivered by Levon Ter-Petrosian, the leader of the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), on Thursday in Yeghegnadzor, a small town in the southeastern Vayots Dzor.
“Please forgive us for not bringing 5,000-dram vote bribes and jam to this meeting with you,” Ter-Petrosian told local residents with sarcasm. “But many others will bring them. So I’m sure your warehouses will be filled up.”
“They are giving back money stolen from you,” he said.
The Prosperous Armenia leader, Gagik Tsarukian, donated ten tractors to Vayots Dzor villages when he campaigned in the mostly agricultural area last week. Tsarukian aides denied any political motives behind the donation.