The opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party of Raffi Hovannisian on Friday effectively withdrew from an ad hoc structure that was set up by Armenia’s leading opposition forces and second largest governing party to fight against electoral fraud.
Zharangutyun attributed the move to the rejection by the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), a junior partner in the governing coalition, of its conditions relating to the work of the Inter-Party Center for Public Oversight of the Elections.
Zharangutyun set those conditions shortly after one of its senior members announced the center’s creation on April 4 in a joint statement with representatives of the BHK, the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun). It demanded that the top leaders of the four political forces also sign the statement and explicitly renounce vote buying.
“As both suggestions were rejected, we can only state our serious doubt in the efficacy of these [anti-fraud] proposals,” read a statement issued by the election campaign headquarters of Hovannisian’s party
“We also express our frustration with political forces which sign documents … supporting free and fair elections, while they continue to commit illegal violations against the most basic standards of free and fair elections,” it charged in a clear reference to the BHK.
Hovannisian has also demanded separately that the BHK pull out of the ruling coalition to prove its leader Gagik Tsarukian’s stated commitment to free elections. Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) on the campaign trail on Friday, Hovannisian pointed to an “unconstitutional” power-sharing declaration that was issued by Tsarukian and President Serzh Sarkisian last year.
“Why do we need personal responsibility here? Because there have been cases of a representative of one or another party saying something about the task force or a political strategy but the chairman of that party saying that that is only a personal view,” said the Zharangutyun leader.
Tsarukian dismissed the Zharangutyun demands as he campaigned in the southern Armavir region. “I respect [Hovannisian] a lot, he is a true patriot, but I can’t understand his thoughts and ideas,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “The coalition will cease to exist on May 6 anyway. There are only 20 days left.”
Tsarukian also reiterated that former Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, who is second the BHK list of election candidates, was authorized by him to sign the statement on the anti-fraud task force. “I want to contest fair and transparent elections,” he said. “I will take care of the people’s votes and won’t let anyone steal them.”
Zharangutyun’s stance has also been criticized by the opposition HAK and Dashnaktsutyun. Levon Zurabian, the HAK coordinator, insisted on Friday that Tsarukian is now interested in a clean vote because of his political ambitions and an uneasy rapport with President Sarkisian.
“I don’t know where that unfolding cooperation through the joint task force will take us, but the start is very promising,” Zurabian said in a video interview with RFE/RL broadcast through the Internet. “We believe that the forces making up the task force are really interested in legitimate elections. The best proof of that is the panic and fear demonstrated by the authorities today.”
“Prosperous Armenia has become an independent political factor … They are visibly ready to take steps on their own, and failing to take advantage of that is a luxury which we can’t afford,” said Zurabian.