The ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) denied on Tuesday opposition allegations that it has forced thousands of people to become its members ahead of next April’s parliamentary elections.
HHK representatives claim that around 7,000 people have willingly applied for membership in the party headed by President Serzh Sarkisian immediately after Prime Minister Karen Karapetian announced on Thursday his decision to join it. Four recently appointed members of Karapetian’s cabinet followed suit in time for an HHK congress held on Saturday.
Explaining his decision, Karapetian said that the recently reshuffled government needs to have a strong power base in order to follow through on sweeping economic reforms promised by him.
“Those [membership] applications are now being processed,” Ruben Tadevosian, a senior HHK figure, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “The number keeps growing.”
The Armenian opposition and independent media outlets have brushed aside HHK assurances that the thousands of membership applications have been filed in good faith. They say that Armenians are simply being forced by their state or government-linked employers to join the ruling party and thus boost its chances of winning the upcoming elections.
“This is disinformation,” Tadevosian said of the opposition claims. “They are misleading people.”
The HHK representative also denied reports that the 7,000 applicants mainly work for Armenia’s national gas distribution company that has long been managed by Karapetian and his associates.
The issue provoked on Monday a tense exchange on the Armenian parliament floor between an opposition deputy, Aram Manukian, and Hermine Naghdalian, a deputy parliament speaker and member of the HHK’s governing body.
Manukian accused the party of recruiting new members against their will. He also claimed that HHK functionaries are inflating the number of such recruits in order to meet membership targets set by the country’s leadership. “I have acquaintances who have been made members of the Republican Party for a second or third time,” he said.
“I am inviting everyone to visit our party to see and interview each of the 7,000 people who will get their membership cards,” countered Naghdalian.
The HHK claimed to have 154,000 members before the latest influx of new members reported by it.
Sarkisian’s party has long been accused by its political opponents, civil society members and media of illegally using government resources and bullying public sector and other employees to win national and local elections. It strongly denies that.