Samvel Aleksanian, one of Armenia’s richest men close to the government, scolded his loyalists working for the ruling Republican Party (HHK) on Sunday after they allegedly bullied voters and observers in his de facto fiefdom in Yerevan notorious for election-related violations.
“Make sure there are no problems here. If I get another phone call, you are finished,” Aleksanian told several of them outside a public school in the city’s Malatia-Sebastia district that houses two polling stations.
Aleksanian arrived there after tensions involving HHK proxies and members of the two precinct election commissions representing the ruling party. They repeatedly quarreled with commission members affiliated with other parties and local election observers.
The observers protested against what they saw as an intimidating and unauthorized presence of dozens of government loyalists in and outside the polling stations. They said the men systematically obstructed their work.
“You are not authorized to be here. Please leave the polling station,” one of the observers, Ruzanna Grigorian, told several such men.
“Cover up yourself,” replied one of them. “We’re like Hollywood stars for them,” he added, turning to his companions.
“I’m just waiting for my relative to vote so we can leave together,” another man said after being asked by RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) about reasons for standing not far from ballot boxes.
Grigorian claimed that HHK proxies repeatedly threatened her with violence and tried to wrest her video camera after stealing its recharging device. “One proxy asked in which strip club I would like to work,” the young woman said.
The proxies denied that, accusing the observers of “provocations.” One of them, Mesrop Manukian, claimed to have been assaulted by Grigorian. Another HHK representative said Grigorian needs to be taken to a psychiatric clinic.
Just minutes later Manukian punched an RFE/RL correspondent’s video camera as he again argued with the election monitor. “Put it down,” he yelled at the journalist.
The tense atmosphere led the chairman of one of the election commissions affiliated with the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) to ask the police to tighten security at his polling station. However, officers deployed there apparently did not intervene in bitter altercations erupting there.
BHK proxies at both polling centers also complained about the HHK activists. One of them said they illegally instructed a local resident to vote for the ruling party, while another claimed to have prevented an instance of multiple voting in favor of the HHK.
Aleksanian, who lives and holds sway in the local community and represents it in Armenia’s parliament, arrived at the scene after hearing about the incidents. At first he denied any wrongdoing but then told off the men described by him as “our neighborhood guys.” “They are lying. There were no problems,” an HHK proxy told the tycoon.
“Gold help you if I get another phone call,” repeated Aleksanian.
Elections held in Malatia-Sebastia have long been marred by reports of fraud and violence. The working class district was the scene of the largest number of irregularities that were reported by the Armenian opposition, mass media and independent observers during the previous municipal elections held in Yerevan four years ago.
Two local election commission officials and another government loyalist were jailed for vote rigging in the aftermath of the 2009 elections. They were set free shortly afterwards in accordance with a general amnesty declared by the authorities.
Also, four opposition activists were reportedly attacked by Aleksanian backers as they campaigned for the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) in the district ahead of the May 2012 parliamentary elections. The HAK leadership accused Aleksanian of organizing the attacks. The tycoon, who controls lucrative imports of some basic foodstuffs to Armenia, denied any involvement, however.