Former President Robert Kocharian’s Hayastan (Armenia) alliance, widely seen as the main challenger of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s Civil Contract party, held its last campaign rally, attended by thousands of supporters, in Yerevan’s central Republic Square.
The sprawling square was the scene of a large demonstration held by Civil Contract the previous night. Another major election contender, the opposition Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) led by businessman Gagik Tsarukian, also concluded its campaign on Thursday evening with a rally held elsewhere in the city center.
Kocharian and his political allies again pledged to restore security in Armenia, end the country’s post-war political crisis and kick-start its economy as they addressed supporters demonstrating outside the prime minister’s office.
“These authorities are not capable of solving any of these problems because they themselves created and are still fuelling these problems. We are coming to put an end to all this,” said the 66-year-old ex-president, who had ruled Armenia from 1998-2008.
“Trust us. Allow us to assume responsibility for the country’s future and push country forward in all directions,” he said in a speech repeatedly interrupted by “Kocharian!” chants from the crowd.
Kocharian again expressed confidence that his bloc will win most votes in the snap elections meant to end a serious political crisis resulting from Armenia’s defeat in the autumn war in Nagorno-Karabakh.
“We started an election campaign and are now concluding a victorious campaign,” he declared.
Pashinian predicted that his party will score a “crushing” victory in the polls when he addressed supporters on Thursday.
The 12-day campaign has been marked by bitter accusations and threats traded by Pashinian and Kocharian and another ex-president, Serzh Sarkisian, who is also challenging the incumbent. Sarkisian leads an opposition bloc called Pativ Unem.
Other, more moderate opposition contenders, notably the Bright Armenia Party (LHK), have sought to cast themselves as an alternative to the country’s current and former rulers.
Campaigning in Yerevan’s northern Arabkir district on Friday, LHK leader Edmon Marukian reiterated that he will try to form a “government of national unity” comprising all rival factions if his party again wins seats in the National Assembly.
“We will do everything to make this agenda prevail,” Marukian told reporters. “This agenda reflects the people’s demand.”
Meanwhile, former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, who leads the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), hit out at the “rival extremist forces,” in a clear reference to Pashinian on one side and the opposition forces led by Kocharian and Sarkisian on the other. He claimed that the political crisis will only deepen if one of them wins the elections.
“These forces have nothing to say or to do about the country’s future,” Ter-Petrosian said in a video appeal to Armenians.
A total of 26 parties and alliances are running for at least 101 seats in the Armenian parliament under the system of proportional representation. The parties need to win at least 5 percent of the vote in order to be represented in the legislature and potentially form a new government. The vote threshold for alliances is set at 7 percent.
The tense election campaign has also been marred by mutual accusations of foul play, arrests of opposition activists accused of bullying or bribing voters, and at least one reportedly violent incident.
On Friday, law-enforcement authorities detained Armen Charchian, the director of a Yerevan hospital running for the parliament on the Hayastan ticket, after a local non-governmental organization publicized a leaked audio recording of his meeting with hospital personnel.
Charchian can be heard telling them that they must participate in the June 20 elections. “After the elections I will take voter lists and see who went to the polls and who didn’t,” he warns.
It was not clear if Charchian explicitly told his employees to vote for Hayastan.
A senior Hayastan figure condemned the prominent medic’s arrest and demanded his release at the start of Kocharian’s rally.
The Special Investigative Service (SIS) also announced the arrest of an unnamed election candidate of Pativ Unem accused of vote buying. The opposition bloc did not immediately react to it.
Five other individuals, all of them opposition candidates or supporters, were arrested earlier on charges of trying to hand out vote bribes.
Also taken into custody on Thursday was the director of a cultural center in the southeastern town of Goris run by a senior Hayastan member. He allegedly threatened to fire one of his employees who took part in Pashinian’s rally held there earlier this week. The Kocharian-led bloc demanded his immediate release.
Several Hayastan and Pativ Unem sympathizers holding senior positions in schools, provincial medical centers and other public institutions have claimed in recent days to have been fired for publicly showing support for Pashinian’s political foes. Law-enforcement authorities have not yet reacted to their allegations.
Hayastan also said that several of its activists in another southeastern town, Yeghegnadzor, were detained and beaten up by local police when Pashinian held a campaign rally there this week. Prosecutors instructed the SIS to look into these claims.