The three political parties represented in Armenia’s government are handing out food and other “gifts” to voters in hopes of buying their support in the forthcoming parliamentary elections, the country’s largest vote-monitoring organization claimed on Tuesday.
Harutiun Hambardzumian, head of the It’s Your Choice group, said the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) and its two coalition partners are actively engaged in supposedly charitable activities which he condemned as vote buying.
Hambardzumian said the material benefits given to voters across the country by all three parties as well as individual candidates representing them include foodstuffs, alcohol, fertilizers and services such as road repairs and free busing for university students. The practice is particularly widespread in impoverished rural regions, he added.
“The parties are saying that that has been done for one or two years,” and has nothing to do with the May 6 elections, Hambardzumian told a news conference. “But I view that as a form of vote buying,” he said.
“This can be characterized as illegal activity,” agreed Karen Tumanian, a lawyer who trains election observers and candidate proxies.
Armenia’s Electoral Code explicitly bans election contenders from providing any goods or services to voters. But Armenian elections have long been marred by opposition allegations and media reports of vote buying, including cash payments on polling day.
HHK spokesman Eduard Sharmazanov insisted on Tuesday that the main ruling party does not and will not resort to the illegal practice. “Only individual Republicans who have charity foundations may engage in benevolent activities through those foundations in accordance with law,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
“We are one of the few political parties which are real parties, rather than charities or limited liability companies,” said Sharmazanov.
The Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), a coalition partner led by businessman Gagik Tsarukian, has also faced vote buying allegations. Ever since the party began operating in 2006 Tsarukian has provided large-scale material assistance to many voters through a charity run by his family. BHK representatives have repeatedly denied any connection between that aid and Tsarukian’s political activities.
Under the Electoral Code, charities whose names can be associated with party leaders and other politicians are not allowed to operate during election campaigns. Campaigning for the upcoming elections will officially start on Sunday.