By Shakeh Avoyan
Aram Karapetian, an outspoken opposition leader who placed fourth in the presidential election, was unexpectedly disqualified from the parliamentary race over the weekend, in the latest in a series of government decisions targeting opposition candidates in the May 25 elections.
A government-controlled electoral body in Yerevan’s southern Erebuni district rescinded its earlier decision to register Karapetian as a candidate in the local constituency, saying that he has not resided in Armenia for the past five years as is required by Armenian law. Paradoxically, the Central Election Commission (CEC) had ruled in January that Karapetian had “permanently” lived in the country for at least ten years and can therefore run for president.
The CEC decision was based on an interior ministry document certifying the opposition politician’s ten-year residency, a key eligibility requirement for Armenian presidential candidates. The threshold for parliamentary candidates is five years.
The chairman of the Erebuni commission, Ara Matinian, said it withdrew Karapetian’s registration after receiving a new police document saying that he does not meet the eligibility requirement. “We are not in a position to look at what happened before the previous elections,” Matinian told RFE/RL.
Officials at the police department’s immigration directorate which issued the document were not available for comment. The CEC is expected to discuss the matter on Tuesday.
Karapetian, a Yerevan-born scholar who has spent much of the past decade in Moscow, entered the Armenian political arena last fall and quickly made his name as a bitter critic of President Robert Kocharian and his policies. According to official figures, he polled about 3 percent of the vote in the February 19 first round of the election, outperforming veteran opposition figures like Vazgen Manukian.
Like most other opposition leaders, Karapetian threw his weight behind Kocharian’s main challenger, Stepan Demirchian, in the run-up to the March 5 second round. Karapetian is now a leading member of Demirchian’s Artarutyun (Justice) alliance. He could not be reached for comment on Monday. But other Artarutyun leaders were quick to denounce the electoral body’s decision.
“This is a politically motivated, not a legal, decision,” said the bloc’s campaign manager, Grigor Harutiunian.
Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, meanwhile, denied any government involvement in Karapetian’s exclusion. “If you think that I am busy registering or not registering candidates, you are wrong,” he told reporters. “Frankly, I didn’t know he was not registered.”
Karapetian is one of about a dozen opposition candidates barred from running in the elections. Among them is Eduard Madatian, a former government minister who filed for registration in the same Erebuni constituency. Karapetian’s and Madatian’s exit from the race would leave no major opposition contenders in the area.
Madatian and several other oppositionists, including Hayk Babukhanian of the Union for Constitutional Rights party with which Karapetian is effectively affiliated, were denied registration on the grounds that they submitted false information about their property. They are now challenging the controversial decisions in the court.
Babukhanian’s lawsuit has already been turned down by a Yerevan court of first instance. He said he will appeal it at a higher court.