By Ruzanna Khachatrian
A rapidly growing party led by Armenia’s wealthiest government-connected businessman claimed on Wednesday to have already recruited a staggering 370,000 members, more than all other political groups taken together.
A leading member of Gagik Tsarukian’s Prosperous Armenia said it now has the muscle to win or at least finish second in next spring’s parliamentary elections. “We are trying to make sure that we do not come in third in the elections to the National Assembly,” Vartan Vartanian told RFE/RL in an interview.
Prosperous Armenia was unveiled a year ago and has since been gaining ground in the Armenian political arena by capitalizing on Tsarukian’s substantial financial resources and increasingly evident populist appeal. The party stepped up last fall its preparations for the upcoming polls with publicity stunts such as provision of agricultural aid, free medical care and other supposedly public services to low-income people across the country. Critics, among them some leaders of Armenia’s two main governing parties, regard this as a massive vote buying operation.
Another party source, who asked not to be identified, claimed that Prosperous Armenia now boasts as many as 420,000 members, or nearly one fifth of the country’s 2.3 million eligible voters. By comparison, the main governing Republican Party (HHK) claims to have up to 40,000 members.
“The recruitment process is continuing,” said Vartanian. “Our members are mainly people who have not been affiliated with other parties before.”
Vartanian also insisted that Tsarukian’s “benevolent actions” are not vote bribes. The tycoon, who is close to President Robert Kocharian, enjoys “great authority among the people,” he said.
Kocharian made a similar point in a televised interview last month, saying that many Armenians now believe that Tsarukian and his party “think about the people.” The remarks reinforced the widely held belief that the emergence of Prosperous Armenia is part of Kocharian’s strategy of retaining a key role in government after his anticipated resignation in 2008.
(Photolur photo: Gagik Tsarukian.)