By Astghik Bedevian
Armenia’s two leading opposition groups blamed the authorities on Friday for what they see as disproportionately high prices of election campaign advertisements that have been set by the local broadcasters loyal to President Robert Kocharian.
Under Armenian law, every party or alliance running for parliament can air up to 60 minutes of free-of-charge ads on state television and 120 minutes on state radio during campaigning for the May 12 parliamentary elections. The Armenian Public Television and Radio is allowed to charge them for every minute of extra air.
Its H1 TV channel’s per-minute fee for campaign ads has already been set at 80,000 drams ($220), up from $120 it charged in the run-up to the previous legislative polls. Most of the private networks will charge even more, despite boasting smaller audiences and being less accessible than H1. Their fees start from 100,000 drams ($280) per minute and are much higher than the cost of televised business advertising that can be as low as 15,000 drams per minute.
Leaders of the opposition Artarutyun (Justice) alliance and the National Unity Party claimed that the huge difference is the result of a deliberate government effort to keep the airwaves off limits for Kocharian’s cash-strapped opponents. “They are trying to make sure that only those who have made fortunes by illegal means can have access to TV air,” charged Artarutyun’s Grigor Harutiunian.
“Even making 10 drams requires a lot of suffering in Armenia,” complained Artashes Geghamian, the AMK leader. “So imagine how much unearned revenue you must have to spend 80,000 drams on communicating with your people for a single minute.”
“This shows just how terrified the regime is by the opposition discourse,” he said.
The Armenian opposition’s campaign expenditures have always paled in comparison with those of the main pro-Kocharian parties. The largest of them, the Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), has many wealthy individuals among its senior members and has never lacked cash. Also boasting vast financial resources is the Prosperous Armenia Party of tycoon Gagik Tsarukian. In addition, Prosperous Armenia as well as another pro-Kocharian party, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), each control a TV station.
Dashnaktsutyun’s parliamentary leader, Hrayr Karapetian, claimed that money should not be a problem for the opposition heavyweights if they indeed have a large following. “I think that those parties that enjoy popularity will also be able to receive large donations to their campaign budgets,” he said.
Karapetian’s Republican opposite number, Galust Sahakian, said that instead of complaining, the opposition leaders make more campaign trips and meet as many voters as possible. “That won’t cost them much,” he said.
Sahakian also made the point that those who lack money should not engage in politics in the first place. “If you have good ideas but no political or financial capital, you’d better write books instead,” he said.