Armenia’s Central Election Commission (CEC) said on Wednesday that it is looking into the legality of the opposition Yelk alliance’s controversial pledge to financially reward residents of Yerevan refusing to sell their votes to the ruling Republican Party (HHK).
Tigran Mukuchian, the CEC chairman, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that the commission will take “appropriate measures” if it concludes that the pledge is illegal.
Yelk said earlier this week that each voter spurning vote bribes will be paid 15,000 drams ($31) from the municipal budget if its candidate, Nikol Pashinian, wins Sunday’s mayoral elections. Pashinian and other leaders of the bloc hope that the one-off cash handouts promised by them will seriously hamper what they call systematic vote buying by the HHK.
The unusual offer has prompted strong criticism from other opposition forces as well as some civil society activists, however. They believe that it amounts to vote buying.
Zaruhi Postanjian, the other opposition candidate in the mayoral race, accused Yelk on Wednesday of breaking the law. “This is an action punishable by criminal law,” she said.
“We should implement instead long-term development programs so that people do not need those 15,000 drams in the first place,” Postanjian told reporters.
“It’s wrong to fight against the authorities with their weapons,” Levon Zurabian of the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), which is boycotting the May 14 vote, said on Tuesday.
Heriknaz Tigranian, a legal expert with the Armenian affiliate of the anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International, suggested that Yelk’s idea runs counter to the country’s Electoral Code which bans election candidates from distributing or even promising material aid and services to voters.
“This means that they are promising to provide financial aid in case of their victory,” said Tigranian. “I think that that statement is at odds with the law.”
But Daniel Ioannisian of the Union of Informed Citizens, disagreed, arguing that the financial rewards would be legally paid by a Yelk-controlled municipal administration, rather than private sources. “I think that this is more of a [regular] pre-election pledge than a promise to buy votes,” he said.
“If I say, for example, that I will raise pensions if I am elected, is that a campaign promise or a vote bribe? In my view, it’s a campaign promise,” added Ioannisian.
Vote bribes reportedly averaged 10,000 per person in Armenia’s recent parliamentary elections. Armenian opposition and civic groups believe that the HHK won the April 2 vote primarily because of cash handed out to impoverished voters across the country.