By Artem Chernamorian in Gyumri
With less than three weeks to go before nationwide local elections, campaigning is heating up in Armenia’s second largest city of Gyumri where the incumbent mayor, a staunch supporter of President Robert Kocharian, is facing three challengers.
One of them, Levon Galstian, is backed by several radical opposition parties, while two others have government connections. Galstian, who leads the small Fatherland and Honor and served as interior minister in 1990-91, is campaigning on a anti-government platform, accusing Mayor Vartan Ghukasian of mismanaging Gyumri’s shattered economy and infrastructure.
Galstian argued on Thursday that his police background makes him fit to eliminate what he described as a “criminal atmosphere” in the economically depressed city which is still reeling from the 1988 earthquake that all but devastated it. He urged local reporters to help the opposition preclude large-scale fraud during the October 20 polls.
Galstian put forward his candidacy late last month after a mayoral candidate endorsed by virtually all opposition parties was unexpectedly given a senior post in the local government and quit the race. Marzpetuni Markarian headed the provincial branch of the National Unity party led by Artashes Geghamian, one of Armenia’s most popular opposition politicians.
Markarian’s de facto defection reinforced opposition parties’ long-running suspicion that Geghamian is secretly cooperating with Kocharian.
Mayor Ghukasian, who has said that Kocharian’s reelection is more important for him than his own electoral victory, enjoys the backing of the presidential administration and the government in Yerevan. He has been publicly endorsed by Hovik Abrahamian, the influential government minister overseeing local governments.
But Abrahamian made it clear that his position on the issue does not necessarily reflect that of the Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) led by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian. The HHK has not officially thrown its weight behind any of the candidates, including Hovsep Simonian of the pro-Kocharian Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun).
Simonian heads an economic department at the administration of the northwestern Shirak province, of which Gyumri is the capital. He says Dashnaktsutyun had tried to win Republican endorsement of his election bid.
The fourth candidate, Martin Zulfumian, quit the HHK recently and is little known to the public.