Heritage Offered Cash for Election Commission Seats

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The opposition Heritage party claimed on Tuesday that it has been offered to sell its election commission seats to one of the pro-government parties preparing for the May 31 municipal elections in Yerevan.

As a party represented in Armenia’s parliament, Heritage is legally entitled to appoint one of the nine members of the Central Election Commission (CEC) and its district and precinct-level divisions. The other commission seats are controlled by President Serzh Sarkisian and the four parties represented in his government.

“We have numerous reports from our members of district commissions to the effect that one of the coalition forces is offering to buy our commission seats,” Zoya Tadevosian, a CEC member affiliated with Heritage, told RFE/RL. Tadevosian said that these offers have been rejected and that the pro-government force is now threatening to individually approach and bribe members of precinct election commissions in Yerevan representing the opposition party.

Tadevosian refused to name names, saying that she will do that if the alleged attempts to bribe Zharangutyun activists continue. “They must discontinue these criminal activities,” she said.

President Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia has been accused by the opposition of using its government levers and “dirty tricks” to win just about every election held in the country over the past decade. The Republicans are already facing opposition allegations that it is forcing public sector employees to campaign for its victory in the upcoming polls. The ruling party has yet to react to these allegations.

“The Republican Party has no reason to buy commission seats,” said Abraham Bakhchagulian, the Republican CEC member. “You can’t change election results by buying one or another commission member.”

The Republican’s largest coalition partner, the Prosperous Armenia Party of tycoon Gagik Tsarukian, was accused by opposition and even some pro-government groups of wholesale vote buying in the May 2007 parliamentary elections.

The Prosperous Armenia representative to the CEC, Harutiun Shahbazian, ruled out his party’s involvement in the alleged buying and bribing offers. “I don’t think she is talking about our party,” he said, commenting on Tadevosian’s claims.

The claims were dismissed by Garegin Azarian, the non-partisan chairman of the CEC. He argued that precinct commissions are to be formed only from May 5-8. “I think it’s impossible to bribe members of a non-existent commission,” Azarian told RFE/RL through a spokesman.

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