Businessman Gagik Tsarukian broke the law when he promised cash and other material aid to voters during election campaign rallies held by his alliance, Armenia’s Central Election Commission (CEC) said on Wednesday.
“Such promises must not be given, it’s a violation of the law,” Tigran Mukuchian, the CEC chairman, told reporters. “I have already informed the [Tsarukian] party’s representatives about this so that they discontinue [such practices] and avoid further violations of the law.”
“In case of their continuation, the Central Election Commission will launch corresponding proceedings and take measures required by the Electoral Code,” warned Mukuchian.
The code explicitly forbids political groups and individual candidates from providing or even promising money, food, consumer goods and services to voters during election campaigns.
Tsarukian heard numerous pleas for such aid as he campaigned in the northern Tavush province on Tuesday. At least one of the dozens of impoverished local residents who asked him for cash was paid on the spot.
Another voter told one of Armenia’s richest men that he needs to undergo surgery but cannot afford it. “Come to Yerevan tomorrow and we’ll do the operation,” replied the tycoon.
Another man complained that he does not have money to have his home connected to natural gas supply. “You approach our candidate and he’ll sort it out,” Tsarukian said in response.
Tsarukian also sought to capitalize on the fact that a Yerevan-based wine and brandy company owned by him buys some of its grapes from farmers in Tavush. “Mr. Tsarukian is promising everyone that he will buy your grapes for 150 drams (30 U.S. cents) [per kilogram,]” he declared.
He went on to pledge to donate a tractor to a local village close to the border with Azerbaijan.
Independent Observer, one of the Armenian civic groups that will be monitoring the April 2 parliamentary elections, also denounced the aid promised by the millionaire businessman, saying that it amounts to vote bribes. It demanded that the CEC sanction Tsarukian’s bloc, one of the main election contenders.
“Benevolent activities must not influence citizens’ views,” Daniel Ioannisian, an Independent Observer activist, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
A spokeswoman for Tsarukian declined to immediately comment on the CEC warning.
Tsarukian heavily relied on such aid during his past election campaigns, triggering opposition allegations of vote buying. The CEC never sanctioned the tycoon and his Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK). The BHK, which now claims to be in opposition to President Serzh Sarkisian, finished second in the last two parliamentary elections held in 2012 and 2007.