By Artem Chernamorian in Gyumri
The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), a major pro-presidential party represented in the government, increased to nine the number of its parliament seats on Sunday when its candidate won, according to official results, a by-election in northwestern Shirak province.
Preliminary official figures released by the provincial election commission on Monday show that Dashnaktsutyun’s Hovannes Matilian garnered 38 percent of the vote, more than any other candidate. His main challenger, Vartan Makeyan of the opposition Democratic Fatherland party, came in second with 29 percent.
Makeyan and his supporters refused to recognize their defeat, accusing local authorities of resorting to widespread vote irregularities. His brother and Democratic Fatherland leader, Petros Makeyan, told reporters in the provincial capital Gyumri that Dashnaktsutyun’s victory was ensured by police and local government officials. He alleged that they used threats and financial incentives to force more than a thousand people to vote for the pro-government candidate.
A member of the provincial electoral commission, Julietta Avetisian, told RFE/RL that she witnessed vote irregularities in one of the rural precincts, noting in particular the presence of police officers inside the polling station, something which is prohibited by the law. In another Shirak village, a police officer forced this correspondent to leave the polling station, which is also against the law.
But the commission chairman, Murad Grigorian, insisted that the election was on the whole free and fair, with only one formal complaint filed to the local election officials as of Monday. The ballot was not marred with violence, he added.
Matilian will thus be declared a parliament deputy under the first-past-the-post electoral system. He will become the ninth member of Dashnaktsutyun in the 131-seat National Assembly. The overwhelming majority of its deputies were elected in May 1999 elections which saw Dashnaktsutyun poll 8 percent of the nationwide vote.