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Second week of campaigning brings news of violence amid calls for political tolerance

Second week of campaigning brings news of violence amid calls for political tolerance

Armenia’s president and head of the ruling Republican Party (RPA) has issued another call for tolerance amid more reports of violence in Yerevan against some opposition campaigners.

Speaking to voters in a southern Armenian province on Tuesday Serzh Sargsyan said that “Armenians have no right to form ranks against each other.”

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“We [the RPA] will continue to strive for an atmosphere of cooperation and oppose any manifestation of discord. We cannot afford the luxury of drawing dividing lines. We have overcome one such reality and must not allow a repetition of that,” said Sargsyan on the second day of his working visit to Syunik, in a clear reference to the violent post-election clashes of 2008 in which ten people were killed and several hundred were injured.

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“We should remember that having different opinions is still not a reason for families to split and go against each other,” the Armenian leader stressed in addressing residents of Sisian.

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Sargsyan highlighted the importance of holding the May 6 parliamentary elections in an atmosphere of tolerance, stressing that a good conduct of the elections will become another “step forward towards the reality that we all want to build together.”

As President Sargsyan was speaking in Syunik, more violence against opposition representatives was reported in capital Yerevan. Karen Tovmasyan, a candidate on the main opposition Armenian National Congress (ANC) proportional list, claimed he had been attacked by RPA activists in the troubled Malatia-Sebastia community of Yerevan where opposition activists had already been assaulted during the current campaign season. Tovmasyan insisted that several activists of the RPA’s local campaign headquarters used force to get him out of a taxi, punched and pushed him, seizing a bunch of letters addressed by ANC candidate in the Malatia-Sebastia constituency Nikol Pashinyan to local voters that he was distributing in the southwestern Yerevan community. On Sunday, three members of the ANC (also candidates on the opposition bloc’s list) were also attacked while campaigning in this working-class district regarded as RPA-backed tycoon Samvel Alexanyan’s fiefdom. Alexanyan, who is an incumbent member of parliament representing the community and is seeking reelection in the May 6 vote, has denied any involvement of his campaign headquarters in the reported attacks. Meanwhile, a group of pro-Alexanyan women claiming to be residents of the neighborhood confronted Pashinyan in a local yard preventing the oppositionist from proceeding with his campaign. The Alexanyan campaign denied orchestrating the anti-Pashinyan protest, while saying it was rather a spontaneous outpouring of support for their candidate and non-acceptance of the outspoken loyalist of ex-president Levon Ter-Petrosyan.

Meanwhile, the leader of the pro-establishment Prosperous Armenia Party (PAP), Gagik Tsarukyan, continued his campaign in the Tavush province. During a meeting with voters in the town of Dilijan Tsarukyan spoke of administrative resources being used in favor of certain forces (he did not name those) and mayors of towns and villages putting pressure on people to vote for their candidates. Tsarukyan urged people to vote according to their conscience.

(The PAP currently has the second largest faction in parliament, but it does not conceal its ambitions to increase the share of its representation in the legislature and have a greater role in the next government, which makes it a natural opponent of the RPA, its partner in the current coalition).

At the same time, talking to media, Tsarukyan spurned talk about cooperation between the PAP and the ANC outside the recently established inter-party body to preclude election fraud.

Meanwhile, Ruben Hakobyan, the deputy head of the opposition Heritage party that eventually refused to participate in the work of that joint election monitoring body casting doubts about the sincerity of its intent, claimed that the PAP was acting in accordance with the scenario drawn by ANC leader Ter-Petrosyan, which presupposes the shift of the “center of gravity” within the ruling coalition from the RPA towards the PAP.

Ter-Petrosyan also denied any agreements with the PAP outside the anti-fraud deal. In an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian Service on Tuesday the opposition leader said: “We aren’t allies with the PAP, Heritage or Dashnaktsutyun. We are cooperating only around one issue – the conduct of fair and legitimate elections.”

Heritage party leader Raffi Hovannisian, meanwhile, proceeded with his meetings with constituencies in Yeghegnadzor in the Vayots Dzor province. During his meeting there Hovannisian spoke about the current atmosphere of fear among voters, which he said was particularly strong in the regions. The opposition leader said that if the May 6 elections are conducted with violations and their results are not credible, “everyone will be responsible for it.”

On its campaign tour of the regions the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), meanwhile, kept raising issues of immediate concern to ordinary people. At a meeting with voters in Armavir Dashnaktsutyun lawmaker Artsvik Minasyan presented the party’s election manifesto, stressing that if given sufficient support by voters in the next five years the party will be able to create at least 200,000 new jobs, bring pensions to the level that would correspond to the minimum consumer basket, raise the minimum wage to up to half as much as the average wage is, provide benefits for children and free housing to families with five or more children.