Early Campaigning Causes a Stir: Is the Republican Party of Armenia Above the Law?

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Ruling RPA Jumps the Gun with Large-Scale Campaign Banners Across Yerevan; Concerned Citizens Call the Early Campaigning a Clear Violation of Campaign Rules and Regulations

YEREVAN (A.W.)—Election posters and banners of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) have sprung up across Yerevan, days ahead of the official kick-off of campaigning for the upcoming Parliamentary elections, causing quite a stir.

Photographs of large-scale banners donning the RPA’s campaign slogan “Security and Progress,” the party’s campaign website, and images of Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan, President Serge Sarkisian, and other RPA officials placed in various downtown-Yerevan locales, began circulating on social media and Armenian news outlets on March 2, three days before political parties and blocs are officially permitted to actively campaign.

Election posters and banners of the ruling RPA have sprung up across Yerevan, days ahead of the official kick-off of campaigning for the upcoming Parliamentary elections, causing quite a stir. (Photo: RFE/RL Armenian Service TV)

Though official election campaigning begins on March 5, parties and political blocs have begun revealing their slogans, views, and, programs over the past few weeks.

Several across Armenia, including a representative from the Citizen Observer initiative, have called the RPA’s move a clear violation of campaign rules and regulations.

“The Central Electoral Commission (CEC) of Armenia must immediately demand that the posters are removed. We [Citizen Observer] will also note these violations and publish them,” Arthur Sakunts, a representative from the initiative told reporters on March 3. “We will present our clear demands, but it is important that the CEC doesn’t waste time and take steps to correct this gross violation,” Sakunts added.

Speaking to the Armenian Weekly, Armenian citizen and Yerevan resident Ivan Ardhaldjian found it strange the large RPA campaign advertisements have begun to appear on city billboards before the legal kickoff date, days after the RPA vouched for transparency in the election process. “[The banners] come just days after President Serge Sarkisian, the chairman of the RPA announced: ‘We have set the bar high: to conduct democratic, free, fair, and transparent elections.’ Are the RPA campaign ads the tip of the iceberg?” Ardhaldjian asked.

The CEC released a statement on March 3 after being probed by concerned citizens and journalists, including the Yerevan-based investigative online newspaper Hetq. “The [posters] are not a violation of the electoral legislation,” the CEC said regarding large-scale posters that were put on buildings in Yerevan’s Sakharov Square and Arshakunyats avenue. “On Feb. 28, the CEC decided that political parties and blocs are allowed to put up banners under five square meters. Parties and blocs are free to do as they please within their rights,” the statement went on to say.

(Below is an RFE/RL Armenian service video of several campaign banners put up across Yerevan.)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KZkWAXQmEUo?feature=oembed&w=620&h=349]

Concerned citizens and residents have noted that the banners are clearly in violation of the rule, as they exceed the acceptable size.

“I have been trying to contact the Prime Minister’s office all morning, but they don’t have answers. It seems as though they have learned my number and will no longer answer phone,” Sanan Derbedrosian, a repatriate living in Yerevan, told the Armenian Weekly. “One begins to wonder what [the RPA] is trying to achieve by campaigning two days early. It just proves that they are ready to break the rules,” she added.

“Elections in Armenia have been rigged since 1995, and one of the hearths of this problem has been the CEC itself,” journalist and ANI Armenian Research Center coordinator Tatul Hakobyan said in a Facebook status. “It’s very natural that [CEC President Tigran] Mukuchyan doesn’t consider these ‘small’ things as being in violation of the rules,” Hakobyan added.

Commenting on the matter, RPA spokesperson and Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly of Armenia Eduard Sharmazanov told reporters on today that the party has not started campaigning and called the banners a “technical problem,” not a political one.

“The RPA has been above the law for a long time… Why should they care now?” said one citizen, when asked to provide comments to the Armenian Weekly. “I don’t think that they really care about repentance,” said the man, who wished to remain anonymous.

Another troubled citizen said that the high hopes the public had for the new Prime Minister are slowly fading after he announced his decision to join the ruling party in November and especially after the seeing his photo in the early campaign ads. “It seems as though the violations have started even before the campaign has kicked off. We had high hopes. We don’t want to be let down once again,” he said.

Though Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) Parliamentary Faction leader and head of the party’s election ticket Armen Rustamyan did not explicitly condemn the RPA, he said that few within the ARF would want their photographs plastered over giant posters. “You won’t see any large banners of our photos anytime soon,” Rustamyan said while speaking to reporters.

On April 2, Armenia will go to the polls to elect a new National Assembly (Parliament) in the first election conducted since the adoption of the country’s new Constitution.

Source: Armenian Weekly
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