By Ruzanna Stepanian
A close associte of former parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian claimed on Friday that the governing Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) is too unpopular to win a free election and plans to rig next year’s parliamentary polls.
Heghine Bisharian expressed serious concern at the HHK’s recent merger with powerful Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian and his loyalists, accusing them of creating an “atmosphere of fear” in the country.
“If this kind of individuals are joining forces, then there are some scenarios that go against the people’s interests,” Bisharian told RFE/RL. “That they are not with the people is out of question.”
“They are trying to make people sell themselves, their families and the future of their children,” she charged, predicting a massive vote buying by the Republicans.
The HHK, which is formally headed by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, has emerged as the favorite to win the 2007 election after being joined by Sarkisian and other influential individuals last month, even if it is not seen as the most popular political force in Armenia. The party is widely expected to cash in on its grip on government structures and vast financial resources of scores of wealthy businessmen affiliated with it. Sarkisian has made it clear that its electoral victory is vital for his reputed plans to succeed President Robert Kocharian in 2008.
The HHK’s strengthening has already sparked concerns that the looming election will again fall short of democratic standards. Sarkisian sought to allay these fears late last month, saying that the vote will be the cleanest in Armenia’s troubled electoral history. But opposition leaders dismissed the pledge, pointing to Sarkisian’s important role in the conduct of previous elections marred by serious fraud.
Bisharian, who is a senior member of Baghdasarian’s Orinats Yerkir party, insisted that the Republicans can not have the largest faction in the next National Assembly if the 2007 vote is free and fair. “If the elections are free and transparent, then I certainly rule that out,” she said. “They have had the greatest levers in the governance of our country and we can see that nothing has changed in the people’s life.”
Bisharian went on to accuse the HHK of forcibly recruiting members among public sector employees and planning to force tens of thousands of army conscripts to vote for the party. “I have information that in some places people are fired for protesting against that,” she said without giving any specific examples of that.
Orinats Yerkir was a junior partner in the HHK-dominated governing coalition until being forced out of it by President Robert Kocharian. The party now claims to be in opposition to Kocharian.
Bisharian did not rule out the possibility of Orinats Yerkir forming an electoral alliance with other opposition groups. She said Baghdasarian will begin “political consultations” with them next week.
(Photolur photo: Artur Baghdasarian.)