By Anna Saghabalian
The Orinats Yerkir Party of parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian is poised to win a repeat parliamentary by-election in central Armenia on Sunday after the effective withdrawal from the race of its main local challenger supported by Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian.
Voters in the single-mandate constituency north of Yerevan will go to the polls in a re-run of the August 29 vote, the official results of which were annulled amid accusations of vote rigging traded by the two government factions.
Its outcome became a forgone conclusion after the candidate representing Hovsepian’s Nig-Aparan organization announced on Wednesday his decision to stop campaigning for the vacant parliament seat. Although businessman Arayik Hayrapetian’s name will remain on the ballot, the move gave a decisive edge to his Orinats Yerkir rival, Artak Sargsian.
In a written statement, Hayrapetian insisted that he was robbed of outright victory in the first-round election and said he sees no point in contesting the repeat ballot because he believes that it will also be fraudulent. “I do not want to be sucked into dirty partisan games,” he said in a thinly veiled attack on Orinats Yerkir.
Baghdasarian’s party denies the fraud allegations, saying that it is its opponents that committed vote irregularities. The 36-year-old speaker, whose party is represented in the Armenian government, has openly accused the Hovsepian-controlled law-enforcement agency of illegally meddling in politics.
Media reports have suggested that Hayrapetian’s decision to throw in the towel was the result of President Robert Kocharian’s meeting earlier this week with the increasingly ambitious chief prosecutor. According to the “Haykakan Zhamanak” daily, Hovsepian was ordered to cede the parliament seat to Orinats Yerkir.
Hovsepian, whose support base is largely made up of prominent natives of the central Aparan region, has refrained from publicly commenting on the issue. Hayrapetian’s campaign manager, Tigran Petrosiants, on Friday likewise refused to respond to the reports about Kocharian’s intervention in the inner-government confrontation.
Meanwhile, another election candidate, Babken Markarian, claimed that both front-runners resorted to illegal methods such a vote buying in the run-up to the August 29 showdown. “They both handed out a lot of cash in the first round,” he said.
“They continue to knock on people’s doors and offer money,” Markarian added, referring to the Orinats Yerkir campaign.