By Karine Kalantarian
The ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) will soon unveil a set of measures aimed at preventing a repeat of serious fraud in next month’s parliamentary elections, Justice Minister David Harutiunian said on Wednesday.
The announcement came as the Central Election Commission officially registered all 24 parties and one alliance that have applied for participation in the elections under the system of proportional representation. They will be vying for 90 of the 131 seats in the National Assembly.
The remaining 41 seats will be up for grabs in single-member constituencies across the country. More than 150 individual candidates, most of them affiliated with or endorsed by various parties, have filed for registration in those constituencies.
“We have no alternative [to holding democratic elections,]” Harutiunian told RFE/RL in an interview. “There is such will [in the HHK,] and right now the party is working on measures that will contribute to the realization of that goal.”
“I will be in charge of the effort. We are going to fight against vote irregularities,” he said.
Harutiunian said this will involve, among other things, the launch of a telephone hot line for citizens witnessing vote buying, ballot stuffing and other irregularities that marred presidential and parliamentary elections held in Armenia until now. He declined to detail other anti-fraud measures planned by a party that has for years been accused of resorting to vote rigging to dominate Armenian politics.
The initiative is certain to be dismissed by the Armenian opposition as a pre-election gimmick designed to mislead the public and the international community. Some opposition leaders have already accused the Republicans of planning to rig the elections scheduled for May 12. Reports in the Armenian press have said that local government chiefs affiliated with the HHK are forcing civil servants and other public sectors employees to join the party or face dismissal.
Harutiunian joined the HHK and was included on its electoral list in February after months of media speculation about his political plans for the near future. He said he had considered joining Prosperous Armenia (BHK), another major pro-establishment party reportedly sponsored by President Robert Kocharian, but eventually picked the HHK. The minister admitted that Prosperous Armenia’s refusal to have unpopular government members among its election candidates was one of the factors behind his choice.
Harutiunian, who is widely regarded as Kocharian’s protégé, denied suggestions that the Armenian president “sent” him to the HHK as part of his alleged efforts to hold the governing party led by Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian in check. “That is not true,” he said. “I had the freedom to choose between the two parties, and I made a choice.”