The political parties of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and his main coalition partner, businessman Gagik Tsarukian, have traded bitter accusations in the ongoing municipal election campaign in Yerevan.
A spokeswoman for Tsarukian’s Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), Iveta Tonoyan, on Monday accused Pashinian loyalists of conducting, through online and social media, a smear campaign against the BHK’s mayoral candidate, Naira Zohrabian. She claimed that scores of government officials as well as fake social media users are engaged in the “information terror” involving insults and even threats.
“And all this is being done … on the personal [social media] pages of government ministry officials,” Tonoyan told reporters. “They are widely propagating hatred and bigotry towards Naira Zohrabian.”
“We have already collected numerous facts and are going to present them to European structures as well,” she said.
Zohrabian made similar allegations when she lashed out at the mayoral candidate of Pashinian’s Civil Contract party, Hayk Marutian, during a campaign rally held late on Sunday. She also appeared to attack Pashinian and his political team as a whole.
“Do you think that by screaming and making hysterical moves in the streets you can deceive the people for a long time?” said a furious Zohrabian. “Enough is enough. We would not have spoken up had you not transcended all boundaries of morality, manliness and dignity.”
The BHK is also incensed by Pashinian supporters’ allegations that Tsarukian’s party is secretly collaborating with former President Serzh Sarkisian and the latter’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) despite being part of the country’s current government.
BHK representatives said that several Civil Contract candidates for Yerevan’s municipal assembly are connected to the former ruling regime. They singled out Viktor Mnatsakanian, a former state official and a godson of Mikael Minasian, Sarkisian’s once powerful son-in-law.
Lena Nazarian, a senior Civil Contract lawmaker, downplayed this fact, saying that Mnatsakanian had long ceased to have a close rapport with Minasian. “That person is very well-known in Yerevan for [financing] charity and development projects, and he also very actively participated in the revolution,” she said, referring to the Pashinian-led mass protests that forced Sarkisian into resignation on April 23.
Nazarian also said that the BHK has a long history of cooperation with Sarkisian. “On April 17 nine deputies of the Tsarukian Bloc voted for Serzh Sarkisian’s premiership,” she said. “That party has repeatedly been in a coalition with the Republican Party … And they now accuse us of cooperating with the Republicans.”
Tsarukian and his allies joined the anti-Sarkisian protests as they gained momentum later in April. They also helped Pashinian become prime minister on May 8. The BHK received five ministerial posts in Pashinian’s cabinet formed shortly afterwards.
Relations between Pashinian and Tsarukian seem to have cooled in recent weeks. Speaking at Civil Contract’s campaign rallies, the Armenian premier, has charged that not only the former ruling HHK but also other political groups are plotting a “counterrevolution.” He has said that voters in Yerevan should therefore strongly back his party in the municipal elections scheduled for September 23.
Civil Contract’s Marutian is a 41-year-old TV comedian widely regarded as the election favorite. Zohrabian claimed that he is too “scared” to have a live televised debate with her. She also labelled Marutian as Pashinian’s puppet.
“If you are a man, I am inviting you to a debate. Come [to the debate] without Nikol,” the BHK candidate declared, appealing to Marutian.
“I have eleven equal challengers and I am ready for a debate with them,” Marutian responded on Monday. “But it must involve all [mayoral] candidates and equal conditions for all of them.”
The Pashinian-backed candidate thus made clear that he will not debate Zohrabian separately. “No candidate should get privileged treatment,” he said, dismissing the BHK’s “political ploys.”