By Karine Kalantarian
The three political parties making up Armenia’s coalition government spent more money on their election campaigns than is allowed by the law, according to a study conducted by a Yerevan-based anti-corruption watchdog.
The Armenian affiliate of Transparency International, a Berlin-based group assessing corrupt practices around the world, said the Republican Party (HHK), the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) and the Orinats Yerkir Party failed to comply with the 60 million-dram ($103,000) legal ceiling on campaign expenditures for a single party or electoral bloc. It said the Republicans and Orinats Yerkir exceeded the limit “substantially.”
The Transparency International branch based the claims on the results of its study conducted in the weeks leading up to the May 25 parliamentary elections. It said the research drew on its own pre-election monitoring and relevant data received from other sources, including the parties themselves and electronic media. The group could not specify the exact amount of money which it thinks was spent by each of the three governing parties.
The far-reaching conclusions contradict with the findings of the Armenian Central Election Commission (CEC), which is supposed to deal with the issue. The CEC found that all of the 21 parties and blocs running for parliament complied with the campaign funding rules. Failure to do so could have resulted in their disqualification from the race.
The Transparency representatives in Yerevan said only the three coalition parties supporting President Robert Kocharian broke the legal provision. They said they had to rely on their own spending estimates as most of the election contenders and television channels, which broadcast campaign advertisements extensively, did not fully cooperate with the researchers.
Arevik Saribekian, the research coordinator, said the anti-graft group, for example, has estimated that the Republicans, led by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, should have spent at least $10,000 on pop concerts they organized in various parts of Armenia as part of their election campaign. But she said the party’s financial report submitted to the CEC does not contain any entertainment expenditures.
Saribekian also pointed to the free-of-charge distribution of 30,000 T-shirts and thousands of other souvenirs carrying Orinats Yerkir’s name. They were not included into the party’s spending bill.
Both the HHK and Orinats Yerkir ran extremely well-funded campaigns. Orinats Yerkir, in particular, was unrivalled in the purchase of television air-time for campaign ads. Individual candidates representing the two pro-Kocharian parties were widely accused of vote buying, which became particularly endemic in the last parliamentary elections.
Armenian law also obligates all political parties to disclose their sources of revenue. But very few of them are thought to comply with the requirement.