Gyumri Mayor Vartan Ghukasian predicted on Wednesday that the ruling Republican Party (HHK) will win parliamentary elections in Armenia’s second largest city and surrounding Shirak province because of large-scale housing construction in the area ravaged by a 1988 earthquake.
According to official results of the last elections held in 2007, the HHK won about 30 percent of the vote in Shirak. The party’s nationwide vote tally stood at more than 33 percent.
Ghukasian, who is the HHK’s election campaign manager in Shirak, said it will fare better this time around. “I think the Republican Party will get more votes because when you look at what the party has done for the city and the region you can see a lot of work,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) in an interview. “That’s huge work,” he said.
Ghukasian based his forecast on the ongoing implementation of a government program to complete the protracted reconstruction of Armenia’s northern regions that bore the brunt of the 1988 calamity. The $250 million scheme launched after HHK leader Serzh Sarkisian took over as president in 2008 envisages the construction of about 5,300 apartments and houses.
In Gyumri alone, about 3,000 new apartments are to be provided by 2013 to people still living in shacks and other inadequate housing. More than 1,000 homes were inaugurated there last July at a ceremony attended by Sarkisian.
Murad Grigorian, a regional leader of the main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), downplayed the construction work, saying that the government cannot claim credit for it because it has been financed by foreign loans. He said the HHK should instead explain its failure to create a significant number of new jobs in a region that has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.
“The people here are sick and tired of their promises,” Grigorian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Ghukasian promised in that regard that more than 2,000 new jobs will be created in Gyumri in the near future. He said they will be concentrated in at least two textile factories to be opened there soon. “That’s a real thing, there is no reason to doubt it,” added the flamboyant mayor.
President Sarkisian, meanwhile, took his party’s election campaign to the southwestern Armavir region on Wednesday. Speaking at a rally in the town of Echmiadzin, he urged voters not to trust in what he called populist and unrealistic promises given by other parties. He did not name those parties.
“You should be very cautious and all those promises that will be given to you must be viewed by you as mere promises, rather than guarantees of their fulfillment,” the HHK leader said.
Sarkisian also assured the crowd that he does not regard the May 6 elections as a “fight for life or death.”