has become Millionaire's Row, with plenty
rights and privileges.
Armenia's tiny class of millionaires, heavily
dependent on government connections, has emerged
as one of the main beneficiaries of Sunday's parliamentary
elections, wining a record-high number seats in
the new parliament.
Preliminary official results of the vote show
that about half of the 131 members of the National
Assembly will be wealthy businesspeople who have
capitalized on the increasingly important factor
in Armenian politics: money. For the first time,
many of them entered the parliament through the
proportional representation lists of pro-establishment
parties -- a new trend indicating the growing
influence of big business in Armenia.
The governing Republican Party of Armenia (HHK),
the official winner of the polls, had the most
business-dominated list of candidates. It is topped
by about a dozen government ministers. Most of
them are likely to keep their jobs and cede their
parliament mandates to the so-called middle echelon
of HHK candidates.
Among them are the owners of large businesses
such as the Jermuk Group mineral water firm, Kilikia
brewery and the Great Valley liquor group. Also
likely to become a deputy is Areg Ghukasyan, the
brother of the president of the self-proclaimed
Nagorno-Karabakh Republic who runs lucrative salt
mines in Yerevan.
Wealthy entrepreneurs were also high on the list
of candidates fielded by another major party supporting
President Robert Kocharyan, the Armenian Revolutionary
Federation (Dashnaktsutyun). The party teamed
up with tobacco tycoon Hrant Vartanian as well
as the owners of the Avshar liquor company and
the Ashtarak Kat dairy in the run-up to the elections.
At least six businessmen are expected to enter
the parliament through Orinats Yerkir, a pro-Kocharyan
party that will likely have the second-largest
parliament faction with at least 20 seats.
Petrol and cigarette importer Gurgen Arsenyan
delivered the biggest election surprise when his
hitherto unknown United Labor Party was declared
by the Central Election Commission to have cleared
the 5 percent vote threshold for winning seats
under the proportional system. Arsenyan, who also
staunchly supports Kocharyan, is accused by the
Armenian opposition of buying his party's way
into the legislature.
Allegations of vote buying have also dogged wealthy
candidates who, as was the case in the previous
elections, dominated in the 56 single-seat constituencies
contested on the first-past-the-post basis. Money
appears to have been the decisive factor in their
victories. The government-connected candidates
rarely held campaign rallies or delivered public
speeches. They instead routinely distributed computers
and other equipment to schools, paved battered
streets, repaired buildings and even distributed
fertilizers in their constituencies.
More importantly, many of them are widely believed
to have bought votes for an average of 5,000 drams
(about $9) on election day. The practice was reportedly
widespread in impoverished rural areas.
Support of the several dozen businessmen not
affiliated with any party will be vital for Prime
Minister Andranik Markaryan's HHK which lacks
an absolute majority in the parliament. The wealthy
lawmakers, for their part, are expected to seek
government protection and privileges that have
always been vital for doing business in Armenia.