The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) has started signing symbolic contracts with voters in Gyumri as part of a public campaign against electoral fraud that was announced by the opposition party early this year.
From a red tent pitched in a major city square on Saturday, Dashnaktsutyun activists are urging local residents to pledge, in writing, to vote in the next elections to be held in Armenia.
“What we want to do is to convince every citizen and voter, to make them understand that they must definitely take part in elections,” one of the activists, Aram Hakobian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) on Monday.
“Between 200,000 and 300,000 people don’t take part in elections and that failure to vote makes it possible for others to vote in their place,” he said, referring to what is widely seen as a key source of chronic vote irregularities in the country.
According to Hakobian, more than 400 Gyumri voters have already signed such contracts.
Most locals walking by the Dashnaktsutyun stand on Monday morning seemed indifferent to the campaign, though. And some of those who took notice were skeptical about its success.
“If this action serves its purpose that will be great, but everyone here is bribed,” said one middle-aged man.
“They are just wasting paper,” another voter said after signing a contract. “I’m in favor of some change. But by whom? That I don’t know.”
Dashnaktsutyun launched the campaign called “A Vote is Power” last February with the stated aim of facilitating the proper conduct of the next presidential, parliamentary and local elections. Party leaders said it will focus on raising public awareness of electoral rights and discouraging Armenians from selling their votes.
Vote buying, banned by Armenian law, has been widespread in the country since the 1990s.
Dashnaktsutyun leaders also said in February that they are ready to cooperate with all other opposition forces, including the rival Armenian National Congress (HAK), in preventing vote rigging.
The HAK shrugged off the campaign at the time, saying that Dashnaktsutyun has no moral right to campaign for free and fair elections because it has recognized official results of disputed ballots held since the late 1990s.
Dashnaktsutyun representatives countered that the first reputedly fraudulent national elections were held in 1995 and 1996 when Armenia was governed by President Levon Ter-Petrosian, the HAK’s top leader.