The Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) wrapped up its high-profile election campaign on Thursday with a rally in downtown Yerevan that was attended by tens of thousands of people despite heavy rain.
“We will take care of every vote,” BHK leader Gagik Tsarukian told the massive crowd in an uncharacteristically emotional speech.
“Go to the elections and don’t listen to anyone. Do whatever your heart tells you. Everything will be alright,” he said.
Former Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian also spoke at the rally, urging Armenians to vote for “change” and end the political “monopoly” of President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK), the BHK’s senior partner in the ruling coalition. “If you are happy with the existing situation, vote for the ruling party,” Oskanian said.
The rally marked the biggest pre-election gathering held in the Armenian parliamentary race so far. Naira Zohrabian, another senior BHK figure, portrayed this as another indication of the party’s popularity.
Tsarukian has attracted large and enthusiastic during his entire month-long campaign meetings across Armenia. Anecdotal evidence and the presence of numerous buses parked nearby suggested that many participants of Thursday’s rally were brought from Yerevan suburbs or regions outside the capital.
“We have come from Jrvezh village,” one woman told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “We will go anywhere our king and party chairman Gagik Tsarukian will tell us to go.”
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service earlier in the day, Oskanian said the party is worried that Sunday’s parliamentary elections will be marred by serious fraud. “Of course, the BHK has such concerns,” he said. “Our past [electoral] experience shows that. Especially the existing voter lists show that.”
“I’m not saying that the authorities are plotting some conspiracies,” continued Oskanian. “But the authorities want to achieve success in these difficult conditions when the popular wave is against them and they want to maintain their political monopoly. I think that is a very clear signal to all those [HHK] party representatives in the regions who will be involved in the elections.”
“Even if they don’t get direct orders, our past experience is cause for concern,” added Oskanian. “They seem to be committing themselves to producing ‘good’ results because otherwise they could be fired.
“The factor of paying lip service has been devastating in the past and it will continue to be devastating. I’m worried that there could be more of that in these elections because the [popular] wave is for change.”
President Sarkisian and other senior officials have repeatedly pledged to do their best to ensure that Sunday’s vote is the most democratic in Armenia’s history. “We must at last be able to form a government that does not lack [popular] trust,” the HHK leader said on Monday.
Armenia’s leading opposition forces have dismissed these assurances, and the BHK seems to share their skepticism. The BHK agreed last month to set up a joint structure with the opposition Armenian National Congress and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation which is tasked with preventing possible fraud.