By Ruzanna Khachatrian
The election candidate of Gagik Tsarukian’s Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) in a constituency in the southeastern Vayots Dzor region demanded on Wednesday that his main rival representing the governing Republican Party (HHK) be disqualified from the race.
The candidate, Sergey Bagratian, claimed that Samvel Sargsian, Vayots Dzor’s Republican governor running for parliament, is campaigning during work hours and using state symbols in violation of Armenia’s election law. He also accused Sargsian of forcing local government employees to campaign for his victory in the election. He said this is sufficient grounds for removing the HHK-backed from the ballot.
Bagratian’s demand for his rival’s disqualification from the campaign was rejected by the district election commission as unfounded last week, however. Only one of the commission’s nine members, who represents the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, found it justified.
Bagratian said he will take his case to a local court. Speaking at a news conference in Yerevan, he showed a campaign poster in which his rival is pictured against the backdrop of the Armenian flag. Armenia’s election code bans election candidates from using the flag, the national emblem or any other state symbol in their campaigns.
The BHK candidate himself is facing accusations of unfair play voiced by the Republicans. They say, in particular, that he is handing out vote bribes to Vayots Dzor residents.
Bagratian admitted distributing flour to local voters but denied that this constitutes vote buying. “Flour was indeed distributed in the region by all parties,” he said. “As you know, it was presented as charitable work. I don’t think people were asked to vote for a particular candidate in return.”
“I have repeatedly stated that that is benevolence and that nobody has to vote for the force which distributes aid,” he added.
The BHK has been dogged by allegations of vote buying since Tsarukian began providing agricultural relief, free medical aid and other public services to scores of people across the country last fall. The tycoon and his aides claim that the aid is not connected with the May 12 elections.
Bagratian also acknowledged that his son was placed under a criminal investigation after assaulting tax officials in Vayots Dzor last month. “Tax officials there were forcing people to vote for the governor,” he explained. “When you complain and your complaint is ignored, you are forced to fight with folksy methods. We don’t like those methods and have apologized to the people for the incident.”
It is not clear whether tensions in the Vayots Dzor constituency will contribute to a potential confrontation between the two top election contenders, which is anticipated by some commentators. BHK and HHK candidates are facing each other only in a handful of the 41 single-member electoral districts.