A town mayor affiliated with the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) and related to its leader Gagik Tsarukian was conspicuously present at an election campaign rally that was held by President Serzh Sarkisian in the central Kotayk province on Thursday.
Abovian’s Mayor Karapet Guloyan publicly greeted Sarkisian with symbolic bread and salt in the town 15 kilometers north of Yerevan before attending the presidential rally in the regional capital Hrazdan.
Kotayk has for years been a BHK stronghold, with Tsarukian, who was born in one of the region’s villages, wielding strong political and economic influence there. Tsarukian’s party defeated Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK) in Kotayk in last year’s parliamentary elections.
Guloyan, who is married to one of Tsarukian’s daughters, insisted that he is abiding by the BHK’s decision not to field or endorse any candidate in the February 18 presidential election. “I don’t violate the party’s decisions,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Guloyan made clear at the same time that he will take part in the election. But he refused to disclose whom he will vote for.
The BHK-affiliated mayor also commented ambiguously on reports that the Abovian municipality is helping Sarkisian’s campaign offices in the town. “I don’t violate our party’s principles,” he said.
According to the Armenian press, several senior BHK figures are now campaigning for Sarkisian’s reelection. One of them, Gyumri Mayor Samvel Balasanian, publicly endorsed the incumbent president last week.
The BHK, which has the second largest parliamentary faction, was widely expected to challenge Sarkisian in the presidential ballot after pulling out of Armenia’s governing coalition in June. However, Tsarukian unexpectedly dropped out of the race in December.