By Shakeh AvoyanA major Armenian party supporting President Robert Kocharian kicked off its election campaign on Monday with a fierce attack on the government, branding it as a corrupt oligarchy keen to buy seats in the next parliament.
Artur Baghdasarian, the leader of the Orinats Yerkir (Country of Law) party, lashed out at what he described as a “party of money” which is “frantically strengthening its claws.” “One gets the impression that our people work day and night so that some government officials can steal, ride in luxury cars and build new villas,” Baghdasarian said in a speech at a pre-election congress of the party.
Although Baghdasarian named no names, his remarks appeared to be directed at the governing Republican Party (HHK) whose list of candidates is topped by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian and includes eight other cabinet members, including Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian. Orinats Yerkir is represented in the outgoing National Assembly but has never held ministerial portfolios in Markarian’s cabinet.
Both the HHK and Orinats Yerkir strongly backed Kocharian in the recent presidential election. The two parties, together with the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), are the biggest pro-presidential political groups in the country. Relations between them have been less than cordial in the past, and, some local analysts say, might deteriorate in the run-up to the May 25 parliamentary elections.
Baghdasarian’s comments suggest that Orinats Yerkir will be seeking to attract popular support by distancing itself from the government. They also exposed the centrist party’s fears that the legislative polls will not be democratic. Baghdasarian specifically expressed concern that wealthy candidates, many of whom have close ties with the Republicans, will get elected to the parliament by buying votes, a phenomenon that has become commonplace in Armenia in recent years.
“Do not sell your votes in the elections,” he appealed to voters. “Do not sell the future of your children for several thousand drams.”
Still, other Orinats Yerkir leaders avoided any criticism of Kocharian who, in accordance with the Armenian constitution, controls key government positions and can appoint and fire cabinets. Incidentally, Baghdasarian cited one of Kocharian’s favorite pre-election slogans when he said that Armenia must become “the most organized state in the region.”