A senior business executive working for one of Armenia’s wealthiest entrepreneurs will get a parliament seat reserved for the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) thanks to last-minute resignations of two eminent members of the opposition party.
Armen Babayan, executive director of the Yerevan-based company Grand Candy, was seventh on the list of candidates fielded by Dashnaktsutyun for the May 6 parliamentary elections.
Official election results gave the party more than five percent of the vote translating into five seats in Armenia’s new parliament. Dashnaktsutyun was therefore expected to be represented in the 131-member National Assembly by candidates holding the five top positions on the party’s electoral slate.
One of those candidates, Artush Shahbazian, as well as Karine Harutiunian, whose name was sixth on the list, tendered their resignations to the Central Election Commission (CEC) late last week, paving the way for Babayan’s entry to the parliament. Unlike them, the Grand Candy director is a not a Dashnaktsutyun member.
Spartak Seyranian, a spokesman for Dashnaktsutyun’s Supreme Body in Armenia, confirmed that Shahbazian’s and Harutiunian’s resignations were ordered by the party leadership. But he denied that this was specifically done to let Babayan get a parliament seat.
“We just found it expedient for Mr. Shahbazian to engage in party work,” Seyranian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service, Shahbazian, who was a member of the last National Assembly, said that he could have defied the Supreme Body’s decision and retained his parliamentary mandate. But he said he chose to fall in line because he did not want to undermine party discipline.
Vahan Hovannisian, a Dashnaktsutyun leader, insisted that Babayan will represent the party in the parliament only because of his professional abilities. “He is an economist and not a representative of Grand Candy,” Hovannisian said. “You should look at the matter from that standpoint.”
However, another senior Dashnaktsutyun figure, Hrayr Karapetian, admitted a connection between Babayan’s promotion and the fact that Grand Candy is part of the Grand Holding group of Hrant Vartanian, a government-linked tycoon who has long supported Dashnaktsutyun.
“There have been cases before where our parliamentary faction comprised not only Dashnaktsutyun members but also sympathizers,” Karapetian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “If there are five or six of us [in the parliament,] it’s OK to have one sympathizer among us.”
“Especially considering the fact that the Grand Holding owner, Hrant Vartanian, is known for his pro-Dashnaktsutyun views and has been our ally,” he added.
Babayan will not be the only parliament deputy linked with Vartanian. Marine Marabian, the chief executive of the International Masis Tabak tobacco factory owned by the tycoon, was elected to the parliament from a single-mandate constituency in the northern Tavush region. Marabian ran there as a candidate of President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK).
Like other opposition groups, Dashnaktsutyun criticized the HHK for having dozens of wealthy businessmen among its candidates during the parliamentary race. Dashnaktsutyun leaders said separating business from politics is critical for the country’s sustainable economic development.
Still, Dashnaktsutyun, which was part of Sarkisian’s ruling coalition until 2009, itself nominated and backed one millionaire businessman in a single-mandate constituency in the southern Ararat region. President Sarkisian also endorsed the businessman, Arayik Grigorian, when he campaigned in the area in April.
Grigorian, who owns a liquor company, said after the elections that he will not join Dashnaktsutyun’s parliamentary faction and will mainly cooperate instead with fellow lawmakers from the ruling HHK.