By Shakeh Avoyan
Armenians will go to the polls on Sunday to elect the majority of their local government bodies for the third time since the adoption in 1995 of a new constitution that vested sweeping powers in the central government.
The Republican Party (HHK) of Prime Minister Andranik Markarian is seen as the clear favorite to win the polls by capitalizing on its government levers, voter apathy and a lack of interest shown by other major political parties.
More than 1,300 candidates are vying for the top executive posts in 654 out of 930 cities, villages and Yerevan districts which have the status of a “community” under Armenian law. Some 215 candidates are members of the HHK. The Republicans have also thrown their weight behind a hundred other contenders not affiliated with the party.
Several thousand candidates are competing for seats in local legislatures known as “councils of elders.” The councils approve community budgets, supervise their implementation, and assess local taxes and fees. They also decide on the use of communal land and other property.
The Republicans, who are confident of their victory, are mainly challenged by non-partisan candidates. Many of them are wealthy businessmen or government officials.
Other parties have put forward a much smaller number of candidates, citing widespread public indifference to the polls and a lack of powers wielded by local governments.
The elections will be monitored by more than a thousand local and several dozen Western observers, including those representing the Council of Europe. Campaigning, which ended on Friday, has largely been peaceful, despite reported violence in several constituencies.
“Everything is ready for the elections,” Artak Sahradian, chairman of the Central Election Commission (CEC), told RFE/RL. “There have been no serious incidents related to the elections.”
Sahradian also claimed that voter lists across the country, the main source of CEC concerns, have been reviewed by local authorities and are now “90 percent correct.”