A pro-government lawmaker acknowledged on Thursday that some candidates of the governing Republican Party (HHK) provide material assistance to voters in the run-up to Armenia’s parliamentary elections.
Lernik Aleksanian insisted, however, that foodstuffs and other types of aid handed out to impoverished residents do not constitute vote bribes. He also claimed that election candidates of other parties running for parliament are also engaged in such “benevolence.”
“If a person gives someone something as [an act of] benevolence, it’s very hard to subject him to criminal liability,” Aleksanian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “It’s very hard to call it a bribe, if you don’t call it a bribe at that point. A person helps another person. Let’s prove that it’s a bribe on the legal plane.”
“It’s not just our candidates,” who deliver such aid, said the member of Armenia’s outgoing parliament affiliated with the HHK. “The electoral lists of all parties contain individuals who have helped and are helping people to a certain extent, whether it’s before elections or after them,” added Aleksanian.
Armenian law explicitly bans election candidates from providing any material aid or services to citizens in return for their votes. The HHK and its former and current coalition partners have long been accused by the Armenian opposition and independent media of heavily relying on vote buying. They have denied these allegations.
Opposition representatives claimed on Thursday that vote buying will again be widespread in the parliamentary elections slated for April 2. Aram Manukian of the Armenian National Congress (HAK) suggested that voters should consider accepting cash from pro-government candidates but still voting for an opposition party or bloc.
But other opposition figures disagreed, saying that selling votes is wrong in principle. “If you take a vote bribe, then do not demand a better country from us,” said Stepan Safarian, a leading candidate of the Free Democrats party.
Arayik Harutiunian, a senior member of the opposition Yelk bloc, claimed that the Armenian authorities remain reluctant to clamp down on vote buying because it is essential for retaining their control over the National Assembly.
The chief of the Armenian police, Vladimir Gasparian, promised tougher action against the illegal practice on Wednesday when he visited the Armavir province and met with senior officials from the regional police department to discuss preparations for the upcoming polls.
“I don’t think that it’s impossible to tackle [vote buying,]” said Gasparian. “If a police officer in a particular community has good contacts with his fellow citizens I believe that there will be people who will report [vote buying] so that we can do our job.”
Daniel Ioannisian of the Union of Informed Citizens, a civic group that has monitored Armenian elections, was skeptical about Gasparian’s assurances. He said that individuals bribing voters have never feared prosecution.“They are sure that law-enforcement bodies won’t take any measures against them,” Ioannisian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.