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Opposition Cries Foul Over Planned ‘Vote Rigging’


Armenia -- Levon Zurabian, a leader of the opposition Armenian National Congress, undated

The main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) accused the authorities on Thursday of planning to falsify the upcoming mayoral elections with a variety of methods used in past Armenian elections.

“The municipal elections in Yerevan are going in an unfree, unfair but transparent way. That is, all violations are transparent,” said Patvakan Hovakimian, the HAK’s representative to the Central Election Commission (CEC).

Levon Zurabian, an HAK leader, elaborated on the allegations, saying that local self-government bodies in Yerevan are currently busy ascertaining the names of city residents who are absent from the country and will not be electing a new municipal assembly on May 31. He said the ruling Republican Party (HHK) and other pro-government contenders want to have their supporters and bribed voters vote in place of those people.

Zurabian claimed that the Armenian military is also involved in what he called preparations for massive vote rigging. “We have documentary evidence of the fact that the army and the defense minister in particular … has already sent letters to relevant structures telling them to clarify names of [Yerevan-born] servicemen and their relatives that should go to the polls and vote for pro-government candidates,” he told a news conference.

He said those soldiers would then be sent to Yerevan on election day to cast their ballots for the HHK and other pro-government parties. Armenian law bars army conscripts from voting in local elections. According to Zurabian, the HAK has gotten hold of lists of servicemen told to flout that requirement.

The Defense Ministry categorically denied the allegations. “Maybe they [the HAK] themselves drew up those lists and are disseminating them now,” the ministry spokesman, Colonel Seyran Shahsuvarian, told RFE/RL.

The chief HHK spokesman, Eduard Sharmazanov, likewise dismissed the opposition claims. “The opposition’s job is to criticize, the government’s to do business,” he said.

Both Sharmazanov and another, more senior HHK figure, parliament speaker Hovik Abrahamian, downplayed a series violent clashes between campaign activists of the HHK and its main coalition partner, the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), that have marred the election campaign.

“There is tension between all forces,” said Abrahamian. “I find that tension normal. What’s wrong with that? People are actively working.” The violence resulted from personal disputes between certain individuals, rather than party leaderships, he said.

A spokesman for BHK leader Gagik Tsarukian agreed, describing the violent incidents as “petty disputes.” Khachik Galstian also seemed confident that the May 31 polls will be free and fair. “The Prosperous Armenia Party will do everything to ensure the fairness and transparency of the elections,” he told RFE/RL.
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