Gagik Tsarukian rallied thousands of supporters in Yerevan on Thursday, urging city residents to defy what he called attempts to intimidate them and to vote for his Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) in Sunday’s mayoral elections.
“Dear citizens, do not be afraid,” he told a large crowd that gathered in the city’s Liberty Square. “They are trying to intimidate you for going to the elections. Those are the most coward and weakest people.”
“They are scared of not getting votes and getting fired. If they are fired nobody will say hello to them,” he said in an apparent reference to the members of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) and other government loyalists.
In what appeared to be an indirect attack on Yerevan’s HHK-controlled municipal administration, Tsarukian also declared, “A mayor from the Prosperous Armenia Party would not take bribes, he would respond to a citizen’s letter on the same day because a citizen must feel protected. And if a mayor looks down on citizens, loses touch with them and becomes arrogant he will be immediately fired.”
“There are no intractable problems in Yerevan. All we need is right programs and right people, caring people,” added the BHK leader who has made few appearances at campaign meetings held by his party during the mayoral race.
The BHK holds 17 seats in Yerevan’s outgoing 65-member Council of Elders controlled by the HHK. Under Armenian law, the top candidate of the party winning a majority in the council or 40 percent of the popular vote will automatically become city mayor. HHK leaders have expressed confidence that they will retain control over the municipal administration.
Former Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, who tops the BHK’s electoral list, also spoke at the rally, again stressing the importance of ending the ruling party’s “political monopoly.” He said the HHK’s defeat by the BHK and other opposition forces would result in “radical changes” in the Armenian political arena.
“With that victory we would manage to create counterweights to the ruling party and competition within the political system,” said Oskanian.
Armen Rustamian, the mayoral candidate of the opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), on Thursday similarly urged Yerevan residents to turn the May 5 elections into a vote of no confidence in President Serzh Sarkisian’s administration. He claimed that incumbent Mayor Taron Markarian cannot be reelected without fraud and vote buying.
Rustamian also said that the BHK, Dashnaktsutyun as well as two other major opposition groups should jointly try to prevent possible falsifications on election days through their proxies and members of electoral commissions representing them. “It must be clearly stated that we will be cooperating in polling stations to preserve the people’s votes,” he told a news conference.
Raffi Hovannisian, President Sarkisian’s main challenger in the February 18 presidential election, said his Barev Yerevan (Hello Yerevan) opposition bloc stands for such cooperation. Campaigning for the bloc in the city’s Avan district, he also accused the Armenian authorities of using their administrative resources to ensure the HHK’s victory in the polls.
“There are already reports that [election-related] instructions are being issued to teachers, kindergarten workers from the Mayor’s Office and even the presidential administration,” Hovannisian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “We will prove that.”