ARARAT, Armenia (Yerkir)–Armenian Presidential Candidate Vahan Hovannesian Monday helped protesting farmers in Ararat Province as they sought redress from a local food processing plant that refused to pay them for the crops it purchased from them last year.
Along his campaign trail through the province, Hovannesian stopped at the towns of Massis and Verdi as well as the villages of Taperakan and Vosketap to speak with voters about the worsening economic conditions they faced in the provinces.
Hovannesian’s campaign through Ararat was scheduled to begin with a rally in Massis but an unexpected incident where the power in the town was cut forced Hovannesian to cancel the rally.
Before reaching the town of Verdi, Hovannesian stopped at the Borodino food processing plant where hundreds of farmers were holding a protest against the plant. The farmers were demanding that the plant pay its overdue debts to them. According to one protester, the farmers had sold tomatoes to the plant last year but the plant never paid. For many in Vedi, the income from Tomato sales serves as their only means of survival.
Some protestors told Hovannesian that due to the plant’s refusal to pay, they have been unable to maintain their fields, while others complained about the inability to pay for their children’s school tuition.
Many of the farmers also complained to Hovannesian about their inability to appeal to the legal courts because the Borodino plant never signed contracts with the farmers.
After speaking to the farmers, Hovannesian, who is also Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, went inside the plant to speak to its managers.
The amount of money owed to the farmers isn’t being paid in full because the fluctuations in the Dram-Dollar exchange rate have forced the plant to sell its products much cheaper than expected, the plant managers told Hovannesian.
The presidential candidate was eventually able to strike up a deal between the demonstrators and the plant, wherein each farmer would receive a copy of the contract outlining the transaction. The plant also agreed to pay a number of the farmers the full amount due, while the rest would receive their payment in incremen’s.
Hovannesian promised to personally settle any outstanding issues the farmers still had and told them to take any future issues and concerns to the local ARF Committee.
During Hovannesian’s rally in Vedi, ARF parliamentary faction member Rouzan Arakelian, told voters that Hovannesian’s platform includes the development of Armenia’s regions and remote villages. She also noted that the establishment of the rule of law in Armenia is one of Hovannesian’s top priorities.
During his speech, Hovannesian discussed the Borodino plant incident, explaining it as typical occurrence in Armenia where both farmers and businessmen’suffer.
"This is a typical case," he said. "On the one side, the people have given their hard earned crops to the plant only to be left waiting year after year for their payment; while on the other side, the domestic producer is being shortchanged by the constant changes in the value of currency."
"This situation, where both the factory and the villager suffer, is the consequence of the economic policies of the current government," he continued. "This is the reason why only the center of Yerevan develops, because people don’t dare risk investing in domestic production. Instead, money is invested in spas, casinos, and cafes and buildings."
Yerevan is developing at a fast rate, but the rate of development in the provincial capitals is much slower, while there isn’t even any development in the outer regions of Armenia, according to Hovannesian, who has been campaigning on this issue very heavily.
We are not a bad country, we’re just a country that has developed incorrectly, he told voters. A handful of people have been able to buy land in the provinces at very low prices, effectively becoming feudal lords in the regions and forcing people to become their serfs, Hovannesian explained.
This is happening, according to him, because there are middlemen between the authorities and the people. The ARF, he said, will eliminate those middlemen.
"The ARF is against monopolies that result in economic crises, it is against oligarchs, who treat people like serfs," he exclaimed. "If Armenia has an ARF president we will be able to return freedom and justice to our people."
In other news, Armenia’s Central Election Commission announced Monday that none of nine presidential candidates withdrew from the presidential race over the weekend. The deadline for withdrawing ones candidacy was on February 9.
The Central Electoral commission Monday launched the updated version of its official website at: www.elections.am. The CEC website has implemented a simplified search, which allows visitors to get information about the electors’ roll, the precincts, etc., according to CEC Chairman Garegin Azaryan.
The new voter registration program of the CEC will automatically block imperfect data concerning the quantity and the numbers of ballots received by the server from the district electoral commissions, while the number of ballots, classified according to concrete polling stations, will be entered in the registration program beforehand, he added.
The CEC also approved on Friday the sample ballots to be used during the elections. 2,390,000 ballots will be published, according to the CEC. The figure is three percent more than the number of eligible voters as of February 9.
The updated website will also allow people the opportunity to follow the elections as results are entered into the servers, CEC Chairman Azaryan said.
Speaking at a press conference Monday about print media’s coverage of the pre-election campaign in Armenia, Spartak Seyranian, editor in chief of Yerkir weekly stated that much of the Armenian press is propagating an environment of hatred in the run-up to elections.
"Newspapers often publish accusations by candidates against that are taken out of context, ignoring the fact that life is supposed to continue after elections," Seyranian said. "Newspapers are trying to satisfy the deman’s of society, which, unfortunately, prefers gutter press and disdains from elite journalism."
The editor-in-chief of Azg newspaper Hakob Avetikyan disagreed with Seyranian’s assessment. According to him, the main part of Armenia’s readership is serious and thinks critically.
According to preliminary calculations, the number of people who read newspapers in Armenia is about 120,000 people, Avetikyan stated. This number, he added, is not a small figure for Armenia.
According to Avetikyan, people prefer the print media over television as their source for pre-election campaign news. The print press, he said, plays the most influential role in the elections and this should not be neglected.
The two editors also noted that the pre-election staffs of the candidates are reluctant to cooperate with newspapers, preferring TV, and in such cases it is difficult to secure pluralism of opinions.