The Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) of Gagik Tsarukian appeared to justify post-election opposition demonstrations in the country on Monday, warning the authorities against using force against their participants.
In its first official reaction to the conduct of the February 18 presidential election, the BHK said the ongoing street protests reflect “public distrust” in electoral processes and widespread discontent with “injustice” and other government abuses.
“The BHK has been and will always be with the people,” the party, the second largest in parliament, said in a statement. “The BHK believes that it is the absolute right of every citizen of Armenia to demand respect for their rights, including the electoral right.”
The statement went on to urge the authorities to show “restraint” in responding to the rallies organized by Raffi Hovannisian, the main opposition presidential candidate. “The BHK warns that any use of force against peaceful demonstrators would lead to irreversible consequences,” it said. “It also calls on organizers and participants of mass gatherings to take their actions within the framework of the law.”
The BHK, which was part of Armenia’s governing coalition until last June, did not endorse opposition allegations of vote rigging or say that President Serzh Sarkisian is the rightful winner of the ballot. “The BHK thinks just like the people do,” its spokesman, Tigran Urikhanian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) when asked to specify its stance on the election conduct.
“The people have risen up today because of the impossibility of having elementary living conditions,” said Urikhanian. “People are expressing discontent and fury with the existing situation. This is what the BHK thinks.”
Asked whether the BHK sees a risk of a government crackdown on the Hovannisian-led opposition, Urikhanian said, “I want to hope that they won’t [use force,] but the most terrible scenario is always possible.”
The BHK statement also urged Armenia’s leading political forces to jointly work out a “roadmap” to the implementation of sweeping “democratic, political and economic reforms” which it said are urgently needed in the country.
Tsarukian, who is one of the country’s richest men, was widely expected to run for president and be Sarkisian’s main challenger after pulling his party out of the government. However, he unexpectedly decided not to join the presidential race late last year for still unknown reasons. The BHK did not field or endorse other presidential candidates.
The BHK’s relationship with Hovannisian and his Zharangutyun (Heritage) party has been tense over the past year. Unlike two other major opposition groups, Zharangutyun refused to join forces with the BHK to monitor the conduct of the May 2012 parliamentary elections.
Zharangutyun leaders accused Tsarukian’s party of buying votes and using administrative resources ahead of those polls. BHK representatives angrily denied those accusations.