Armenia’s ruling Civil Contract party has been accused of hiring young women to take part in campaign marches ahead of municipal elections in Yerevan. The ruling party has denied the allegations.
On Monday, Akanates (‘eyewitness’), a local election monitoring group, accused Civil Contract and other parties of employing marketing agencies to hire people for marches and to distribute leaflets during the campaign period.
The municipal elections on 17 September are expected to be highly competitive, and a litmus test of the public’s attitude towards the ruling party and Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s government.
Akanates, formed in 2018 by Transparency International’s Armenian branch and several other local NGOs, also posted screenshots appearing to show that people were hired by marketing agencies to participate in Civil Contract’s campaign marches.
They showed ‘Promo Host’, a local advertising agency, allegedly recruiting young women via its Instagram chat. Another screenshot from a WhatsApp conversation showed the dress code — ‘white T-shirts, blue jeans, and sneakers’ — and the location of the meeting — 40 Sayat-Nova Street. The address is the location of the Civil Contract party’s headquarters, where the party’s marches begin.
Akanates noted that the dress code matched the outfits frequently worn at Civil Contract’s campaign events.
Participants were allegedly offered ֏1,000 ($2.60) compensation for 1 hour, to be transferred to participants’ bank accounts. Those who agreed to participate were asked to send a photograph of themselves to the organisers in advance for approval.
According to Akanates, several marketing companies were engaged in similar activities. Advertisements encouraging people to participate in political marches in exchange for pay remain active in private groups and chats on a number of social media platforms.
Akanates said they had a number of recordings and other materials supporting their claims.
The group also stated that they had contacted City Promotion, one of the agencies allegedly recruiting participants to distribute leaflets and wave flags at campaign events.
‘In the conversation with a representative of the organisation, it became clear that they provide a similar service for several parties (the organisation avoided mentioning names). In this case, the participants are paid ֏1,000–֏2,000 ($2.60–$5.20) per hour’, the group stated.
Akanates added they had submitted a report to the General Prosecutor’s Office to find out whether the above-mentioned actions could be deemed paying individuals to take part in public assemblies, a crime punishable with up to three years in prison.
The report is under investigation.
Civil Contract refutes accusations
Civil Contract was quick to refute the accusations as ‘absolute slander’.
‘We can state that neither the party’s central headquarters nor sub-headquarters have anything to do with the processes described in the article’, said Armen Pambukhchyan, the head of the party’s pre-election headquarters.
Pambukhchyan stated that the party had asked law enforcement bodies to immediately investigate the authenticity of the information, and determine the identities of anyone who had falsified the story.
He also invited journalists, election observers, and members of the public to attend their campaign events ‘to see with their own eyes both our campaign and the motivation of our teammates, who, unlike many, are not [motivated by] money’.
Yerevan’s municipal elections will be held on 17 September. There are thirteen political parties and one political bloc running in the capital.
They will also be the largest elections in Armenia since the snap parliamentary elections of June 2021, which saw the ruling Civil Contract party facing off with the Armenia Alliance — a block formed around former president Robert Khocharyan.
In the Yerevan City Council elections, the ruling party’s candidate for mayor, former deputy PM Tigran Avinyan, is expected to face a strong challenge from ex-mayor Hayk Marutyan. An erstwhile ally of Pashinyan, Marutyan was ousted in December 2021, allegedly for not being loyal enough to the ruling party.