Acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan in Yerevan, October 22, 2018

Pashinyan on Campaign Swing Attacks Former Regime, New Nationalist Party

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YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan pledged to “grab by the throat,” “throw to the ground” and jail loyalists of the former ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) who would try to pressure voters ahead of next month’s parliamentary elections.

Pashinyan stepped up his verbal attacks on the party led by his predecessor Serzh Sargsyan as he toured the northern Lori province on the second day of campaigning for the December 9 polls.

“Where are the Republican village mayors who bully their villagers in connection with the elections or anything else?” he said at a campaign rally held in the town of Spitak. “I say to those village mayors: be aware that I personally will visit you, grab you by the throat and throw you out of your offices.”

“Are there people in this country who dare to bully citizens? I will force all of you to lie on the ground. Who are they? Which Republicans? Which oligarchs? Which burly men? I will force all of you to lie on the ground and you won’t get off the ground for years.”

Pashinyan went on to order the Armenian police to deal with HHK-linked “criminal elements” in a similar fashion. “Who do you think you are?” he said, appealing to those elements. “Tell me your names. You must not come out of your holes. You must not walk in the country’s streets. Your place is in prison and you all — criminals, plunderers and scoundrels — will end up in prison.”

Pashinyan did not name any village chiefs or other individuals allegedly trying to earn the HHK voters with illicit methods. Sargsyan’s party, which was forced out of power more than six months ago, has been the main target of his harsh verbal attacks on his critics launched on the campaign trail.

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The HHK condemned Pashinyan’s “hate speech” and “threats against elected officials” in a statement released by its campaign headquarters later on Tuesday, November 27.

Zhirayr Sefilian

“Such behavior is unprecedented for our political culture, especially on the part of … the prime minister bearing responsible for our security and well-being,” said the statement.

The HHK urged Armenia’s Central Election Commission, human rights ombudsman and foreign election observers to pay “attention” to Pashinyan’s pre-election rhetoric.

The HHK won the last parliamentary elections held in April 2017. But it is now fighting to remain represented in the National Assembly.

Pashinyan reacted furiously after HHK figures and other critics condemned one of his close associates, Sasun Mikaelyan, for saying on Monday that the success of this spring’s Velvet Revolution was more important than the Armenian victory in the 1991-1994 war with Azerbaijan. He accused his political opponents of deliberately misinterpreting Mikaelyan’s statement which he portrayed as a slip of the tongue.

Pashinyan also took on the Sasna Tsrer party. He issued a stern warning to a newly formed nationalist party whose members stormed a police base in Yerevan more than two years ago.

Pashinyan said on Monday, November 26, that the Sasna Tsrer party and its supporters will “feel the taste of asphalt” if they attempt to destabilize the political situation in Armenia before or after the December 9 parliamentary elections.

Sasna Tsrer is a rebranded version of Founding Parliament, a radical movement that challenged the former Armenian government. It is one of 11 political forces running in the elections.

Sasna Tsrer’s list of election candidates is topped by Varuzhan Avetisian, the leader of an armed group that seized the police base in Yerevan’s Erebuni district in July 2016. The three dozen gunmen demanded that then President Serzh Sargsyan free Founding Parliament’s jailed leader, Zhirayr Sefilian, and step down.

They laid down their weapons after a two-week standoff with security forces which left three police officers dead.

Despite standing trial on serious charges, Avetisian and the vast majority of the other arrested gunmen were set free shortly after Pashinyan came to power in May in a wave of anti-Sargsyan protests.

Sefilian was also released from prison following regime change. The Lebanese-born activist, who received Armenian citizenship only this month, is not eligible to run for the parliament. But he is participating in the election campaign of his and his allies’ party strongly opposed to any Armenian concessions to Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Avetisian has stated during the campaign that the National Assembly to be elected on December 9 will have to be dissolved within two years because Armenia is now in a post-revolutionary “transitional period.”

Pashinyan, whose My Step alliance is expected to win the upcoming polls, reacted furiously to those statements when he campaigned in Armenia’s northwestern Shirak province on Monday.

“Have you have decided that you have a right to determine the length of the parliament’s and sometimes even people’s life?” he appealed to the Sasna Tsrer leadership during a campaign rally. “I’m telling you: make no mistake, this is not Serzh Sargsyan’s weak and spineless government.”

“Let nobody interpret our smiles and courtesy as weakness. There have been several such cases, and those who thought so felt the taste of asphalt,” Pashinyan said, alluding to high-profile detentions of some members of Sargsyan’s entourage and their bodyguards.

The prime minister added that the new parliament will fully serve its five-year term set by the Armenian constitution.

Sasna Tsrer condemned the premier’s remarks in a statement issued on Tuesday. “Pashinyan made unfounded statements, using threats and phrases having an offensive subtext,” it said.

Avetisian defended his statements. He said they do not mean that Sasna Tsrer is now demanding the holding of fresh elections by 2020.

“It is first and foremost a prediction,” Avetisian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “Many other politicians and political forces have made the same forecast.”

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