By Hovannes Shoghikian
Armenia’s two main governing parties have officially declared far more funds than their rivals for the ongoing campaigning for the May 12 parliamentary elections, officials said on Monday.
Under the Armenian Election Code, parties and blocs can finance their campaigns only from special transparent funds which they have to set up in advance of elections. Each of them is allowed to spend up to 60 million drams ($160,000) for that purpose. The maximum amount of a single campaign donation is set at 2 million drams.
The election contenders have to submit detailed financial reports to a Central Election Commission division charged with monitoring compliance with these rules. Most of them are believed to spend a lot more than they declare.
According to Ara Harutiunian, head of the CEC division, only 18 of the 24 parties running for parliament claimed to have raised campaign funds so far. He said Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) boasts the largest campaign fund with 29 million drams worth of donations declared with the CEC as of last Friday.
The HHK is supported by most members of the country’s business elite and has never lacked the funds to contest elections.
“We prefer to work with our voters on a daily basis,” Eduard Sharmazanov, the party, told RFE/RL. “Naturally, that work, especially in the regions, requires some financing. That is why the HHK spending is close to the maximum level allowed by the law.”
The HHK is followed by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), another party represented in President Robert Kocharian’s government. Its reported pre-election fund had 28 million drams as of Friday, according to the CEC official.
The Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) of Gagik Tsarukian, a businessman close to Kocharian, comes in a distant third, claiming to have raised only 12 million drams ($33,000) so far. Tsarukian is thought to have already spent millions of dollars on promoting his party ever since it began its activities in late 2005. The BHK posted zero expenditures in 2006 despite a massive distribution of politically motivated aid to impoverished people across the country.
According to statements received by the CEC, Artashes Geghamian’s National Unity Party (AMK) is the most well-funded opposition contender with a campaign fund totaling 7.5 million drams. Other parties vying for 90 of the 131 parliament seats contested under the proportional system claim to have raised less than 5 million in donations each.
The election code sets a separate spending limit of 5 million drams for individual candidates running for the remaining 41 seats distributed on the first-past-the-post basis. A member of the HHK boasts the largest of the campaign funds opened by those candidates.