Defense Minister Vigen Sargsian assured the press on Thursday that he will not order Armenian military personnel to vote for the ruling Republican Party (HHK) despite topping the list of its election candidates.
Sargsian insisted that he will not use his position to boost the HHK’s chances of winning the April 2 parliamentary elections.
“The army has not been and will not be guided during voting,” he said. “For many years, the use of political resources in our army has been impossible.”
“But if soldiers feel that the defense minister is doing a good job and decide to vote for the party whose electoral list I top, it will be their civil right and choice,” added Sargsian.
Armenian opposition and civic groups have long claimed that soldiers are routinely told by their commanders to back pro-government candidates in national elections.
President Serzh Sarkisian gave similar assurances when he met with the Armenian army’s top brass on Monday. Sarkisian also warned against “inter-party discussions” in the army ranks in the run-up to the elections. “Furthermore, I am warning all of you that such attempts would simply be punished,” he said.
Some observers have suggested that the warning was addressed to army officers sympathetic to former Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian, who will challenge the HHK in the elections at the head of a new opposition alliance set up last week. Media reports in recent days have claimed that Ohanian could soon face politically motivated corruption charges.
Sargsian, who was named defense minister in October, did not seem to rule out criminal proceedings against his predecessor. “Any activity carries risks,” he told journalists. “An area where there are large budgetary allocations carries bigger risks. But I don’t think I can now comment or say whether there are grounds for a criminal case.”
“I think you understand well that if I see abuses punishable by criminal law, relevant law-enforcement bodies will definitely be informed about that,” said the 41-year-old minister.