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Leaders of a coalition of Europe’s right-wing political parties critical of the European Union have endorsed businessman Gagik Tsarukian’s alliance, one of the main contenders in Armenia’s upcoming parliamentary elections.

The president of the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe (ACRE), Jan Zahradil, and politicians representing ACRE member parties, including Britain’s ruling Conservatives, held a conference with Tsarukian and his political allies just outside Yerevan over the weekend.

A spokeswoman for the tycoon said they arrived in Armenia “to express support for the Tsarukian Bloc and wish it victory in the forthcoming elections.”

The bloc circulated a 15-minute campaign video featuring excerpts from speeches delivered by Tsarukian, Zahradil and other participants of the meeting.

“Dear Mr. Tsarukian, we are here to help you win,” said Zahradil. “We are here to express our support and friendship. We are here to show that we are a united political family.”

“We wish you victory in the upcoming elections,” declared Ryszard Czarnecki, a vice-president of the European Parliament affiliated with Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party.

Armenia - Jan Zahradil (L), president of the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe, and businessman Gagik Tsarukian (C), at a pre-election conference near Yerevan, 19Mar2017.
Armenia - Jan Zahradil (L), president of the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe, and businessman Gagik Tsarukian (C), at a pre-election conference near Yerevan, 19Mar2017.

The ACRE has the third largest group in the EU legislature, which is called European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR). The Euroskeptic group was set up by Britain’s Conservative Party in 2009. It currently comprises more than two dozen parties from not only EU nations but also the three South Caucasus countries and Turkey. Some of its European members have anti-immigration and nationalist agendas.

Tsarukian’s Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), the dominant force in his bloc, joined the ACRE in 2014. A senior BHK member, Naira Zohrabian, chairs the outgoing Armenian parliament’s standing Committee on European Integration.

Among the participants of the pre-election meeting with Tsarukian were two British Conservative politicians who have campaigned for the Unite Kingdom to leave the EU. One of them, Martin Callanan, led the ACRE group in the European Parliament from 2011-2014.

Callanan also spoke at the gathering. He was shown in the video expressing hope that the Tsarukian Bloc will win the upcoming vote and praising its controversial campaign platform.

Armenia - Martin Callanan, a British Euroskeptic politician, speaks at a pre-election meeting with businessman Gagik Tsarukian near Yerevan, 19Mar2017.
Armenia - Martin Callanan, a British Euroskeptic politician, speaks at a pre-election meeting with businessman Gagik Tsarukian near Yerevan, 19Mar2017.

In that 15-point manifesto, the bloc promises to significantly raise pensions and the national minimum wage, cut utility fees and at the same time exempt all small and medium-sized businesses in Armenia from taxes for at least three years. Critics have dismissed these pledges as populist and unrealistic.

Tsarukian’s BHK finished second in the last two Armenian parliamentary elections, capitalizing on his charitable activities denounced as vote bribes by his critics. The tycoon again promised cash and other material aid to impoverished voters as he launched his 2017 campaign early this month. Armenia’s Central Election Commission (CEC) warned him that such pledges violate legal provisions that forbid vote buying.

Tsarukian regularly laments the socioeconomic situation in the country on the campaign trail. But so far he has stopped short of explicitly blaming President Serzh Sarkisian or the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) for lingering hardship.

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