Thousands Greet Tsarukian On Campaign Trail

By Hovannes Shoghikian

Radio Liberty, Czech Republic
May 8 2007

Businessman Gagik Tsarukian continued to hand out politically
motivated aid and receive an enthusiastic reception by supporters
as he took his Prosperous Armenia Party’s election campaign to the
eastern Gegharkunik region on Tuesday.

More than two thousand people turned out for a campaign rally held
by Tsarukian in the economically depressed regional town of Vartenis.

After addressing the rally and promising to improve the plight of local
residents, he was again mobbed by dozens of people keen to ask him
for help or hand him letters containing such requests. One of them,
a woman, said she asked the tycoon to provide her with potato seeds
free of charge.

Some of the requests were granted on the spot. "When should I send
it?" Tsarukian asked a man who pleaded for a wheelchair for a disabled
family member. "How much does it cost? Come over here. We’ll give
you one."

The Prosperous Armenia (BHK) leader also publicly donated a brand new
ambulance van to a local hospital. He made similar donations during
some of his previous campaign trips, provoking fresh opposition
allegations of illegal vote buying.

"That’s not a vote bribe," he told RFE/RL. "I gave this present to
the people of Vartenis to meet their needs and help them take care
of their health. I demand nothing from them in return."

Tsarukian has been dogged by allegations of vote buying ever since
he embarked on a nationwide provision of agricultural relief, free
medical assistance and other services last fall. His aides deny the
handouts violate a legal provision that bans election candidates from
distributing any material benefits to voters, saying that the aid
is formally financed by Tsarukian’s charity. They also say that the
"oligarch" close to President Robert Kocharian has long engaged in
charitable work.

The party has reportedly handed out "lottery tickets" allowing their
holders to get various electrical appliances and other goods during its
campaign trips to other parts of the country. The Yerevan newspaper
"Haykakan Zhamanak" printed a picture of one such ticket bearing the
BHK logo on its front page on Tuesday.

The politically motivated aid is believed to have been integral
to the party’s rapid growth and the fact that it is one of the top
contenders of Saturday’s parliamentary elections. The BHK, which is
widely regarded as Kocharian’s new power base, claims to have more
than 400,000 members, a figure which critics say is grossly inflated
and misleading. The lack of credible opinion polls make it difficult
to gauge the extent of its popularity.

You may also like