Businessman Gagik Tsarukian continued to criticize the Central Election Commission (CEC) on Thursday for warning him against giving voters money or other material assistance during his ongoing parliamentary election campaign.
Tsarukian claimed that he does not expect Armenians to vote for his bloc in return for such aid which he described as non-political benevolence.
Armenia’s Electoral Code explicitly forbids political groups and individual election candidates from providing or even promising money, food, consumer goods or services to people during election campaigns.
Tsarukian, whose alliance is one of the main contenders in the Armenian parliamentary race, has been inundated with pleas for aid since he began campaigning for the April 2 elections. He publicly pledged to grant such requests at his first campaign meetings earlier this month. The CEC chairman, Tigran Mukuchian, warned on March 8 that Tsarukian is thereby breaking the law.
The tycoon again complained about this ban as he campaigned in Armenia’s Gegharkunik province. “Mr. Tsarukian has been told [by Mukuchian] that ‘if you help anyone we will sue you,’” he told a campaign rally in the regional town of Sevan. “I say I’m a benefactor and am not saying ‘I’ll do this so that you vote for me.’”
Tsarukian revealed in that regard that he decided to help an 84-year-old single woman who approached him during his campaign trip to another town, Yeghegnadzor, on Wednesday. He said she told him that she cannot afford surgery on her broken leg.
“I couldn’t sleep last night,” he said. “I picked the phone and instructed my friends to go there and give the money.”
Tsarukian heavily relied on such handouts during his past election campaigns, triggering opposition allegations of vote buying. His Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), the dominant member of his bloc, finished second in the parliamentary elections held in 2012 and 2007.
Tsarukian said on Thursday that the BHK pulled out of President Serzh Sarkisian’s coalition government after the 2012 vote because it failed to win a parliamentary majority and was not in a position to deliver on its campaign pledges. “I couldn’t change anything with 37 deputies [in the 131-seat parliament,]” he told supporters in Chambarak, another Gegharkunik community.
Tsarukian added that he therefore needs stronger popular support to implement his current election manifesto. The socioeconomic situation in Armenia will not improve unless that 15-point program is put into practice, he said.
The program 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 from taxes for at least three years. Critics have dismissed these pledges as unrealistic.