Dozens of government-linked businessmen will run in Armenia’s upcoming parliamentary elections as candidates of the ruling Republican Party (HHK) despite government pledges to significantly limit their presence in the next National Assembly.
The wealthy individuals, virtually all of them incumbent parliamentarians, make up the vast majority of HHK candidates in 33 of the country’s 41 single-mandate constituencies. The party’s governing body headed by President Serzh Sarkisian nominated them at a late-night meeting held on Wednesday.
The list comprises Samvel Aleksanian, one of Armenia’s richest men whose offshore-registered companies have long enjoyed a de facto monopoly on imports of wheat, sugar and other basic foodstuffs. Also running for reelection are the owners of a supermarket chain, and food-processing and liquor company and the country’s largest mineral water bottler.
Some of the 33 candidates are not members of the outgoing Armenian parliament controlled by the HHK. One of them is Mher Sedrakian, the controversial former mayor of Yerevan’s southern Erebuni district who still holds sway there. The Armenian media has for years implicated Sedrakian in violent attacks on opposition activists and journalists and other illegal practices.
Top HHK representatives announced late last year that the ruling party has decided to reduce the large number of businesspeople representing it in the parliament. They pointed to Sarkisian’s November pledge to separate government and business as part of his reform agenda.
However, the HHK made clear that the entrepreneurs, who are notorious for rarely attending parliament sessions, will be excluded only from the party’s list of candidates for the 90 parliament seats distributed under the system of proportional representation. The remaining 41 seats will be up for grabs in the single-mandate districts.
About two dozen HHK-linked businesspeople were elected to the current parliament on the party-list basis in 2007. A similar number of other entrepreneurs got elected on an individual basis.
The HHK’s intention to continue heavily relying on its richest loyalists was denounced by opposition leaders on Thursday. Armen Martirosian of the Zharangutyun (Heritage) party said it makes nonsense of Sarkisian’s latest pledge to radically “transform” Armenia’s political and economic systems.
“This is what their political will is all about,” Martirosian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “It is a will to continue governing the country the way they have governed until now and put the country at the disposal of a handful of clans and oligarchs.”
HHK spokesman Eduard Sharmazanov denied, however, any contradiction between the president’s rhetoric and actions. “If elected, these individuals will be part of a team that will be carrying out reforms,” Sharmazanov told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
“Being a businessman is not a bad thing,” he said. “We think that most of them have very good chances of success.”
Armenian parliamentary elections held in single-seat districts have usually been swept by rich candidates with strong government connections. The latter are routinely accused by the media and opposition of bribing and bullying voters.
This explains why Armenia’s leading opposition groups joined forces earlier this year to campaign for the May 6 elections to be held only on the party-list basis. The HHK blocked the passage of a corresponding opposition bill in the parliament late last month.