By Karine Kalantarian
A candidate from Prime Minister Andranik Markarian’s Republican Party (HHK) failed Sunday to unseat the chief executive of Yerevan’s northwestern Ajapnyak district in a tense election that proceeded peacefully despite fears of fresh violence between two local economic clans.
Officials in the local electoral commission told RFE/RL on Monday that the HHK’s Arman Sahakian was narrowly defeated by incumbent prefect Artsrun Khachatrian who is not affiliated with any political party but enjoys the crucial backing of one of Armenia’s most powerful law-enforcement officials. The commission did not officially announce any figures, though.
There was no immediate reaction from Sahakian and his father Galust who heads the HHK’s parliamentary faction, the largest in the National Assembly. But other Republican lawmakers said they will not concede defeat and will challenge the election outcome in court. They claimed that there were vote irregularities that tipped the balance in Khachatrian’s favor.
The Ajapnyak race was marred by a reported attack on one of Sahakian’s campaign offices by a group of unknown men two weeks ago. The Republicans blamed it on the prefect, a charge denied by the latter.
The incident raised fears for a repeat of serious violence that disrupted a similar election in Ajapnyak in 1999. Khachatrian was competing at the time with Arman Sahakian’s wealthy uncle, Ashot Aghababian. Both families have business interests in the area, and the weekend election amounted to a new round of their feud.
Khachatrian is backed by Aghvan Hovsepian, Armenia’s influential deputy prosecutor-general. He also succeeded in obtaining electoral commission seats controlled by the HHK’s two junior coalition partners -- the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) and the Orinats Yerkir Party. That was seen as another manifestation of lingering differences inside the coalition.
Some Republican lawmakers also complained that President Robert Kocharian did not lend his support to their candidate.