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By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Orinats Yerkir, one of Armenia’s three governing parties, cruised on Monday to victory in a weekend by-election to parliament amid fresh allegations of vote manipulation made by a rival government faction.

Official preliminary results showed that Artak Sargsian, the Orinats Yerkir candidate in a constituency in the central Kotayk region, beat his main challenger Arayik Hayrapetian by a comfortable margin, getting 63 percent of the vote. Hayrapetian is a member of the Nig-Aparan non-governmental organization headed by the influential Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian.

Sunday’s election was a re-run of the August 29 vote annulled following accusations of vote rigging traded by the two camps. Its outcome was all but decided by Hayrapetian’s effective pullout from the race last week. He technically remained in contention because it was too late to remove his name from ballot papers.

Hayrapetian’s allies charged that Sargsian’s victory was the result of massive vote buying and other irregularities. “Vote bribes decided the outcome of the elections,” his campaign manager, Tigran Petrosiants, said.

“Assurances that the president of the republic will make sure that there are no vote bribes and other violations this time around have proven wrong,” said Aghasi Arshakian, a parliament deputy and a member of Nig-Aparan. “The entire police were involved in vote buying.”

Armenia’s Central Election Commission (CEC) denied the claims, however. “It has yet to be proven that vote bribes were handed out,” its deputy chairman, Hamlet Abrahamian, told RFE/RL. “The local election commissions found no irregularities. Everything was done quickly and properly.”

Prosecutor Hovsepian, meanwhile, made no mention of the alleged irregularities when he was asked by journalists to comment on the defeat of his protégé.

“According to the law, the prosecutor’s office has no political functions. I myself strive to make sure that all prosecutors stay away from political processes,” he added, in a bid to dispel the widely held belief about his growing political ambitions.

Nig-Aparan, which unites prominent natives of a region in central Armenia, is already unofficially represented in the parliament by several deputies. In addition, Hovsepian has extensive business interests and is seen by some commentators as one of President Robert Kocharian’s potential successors.

Parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian, who leads Orinats Yerkir, is also believed to aspire to that role. According to some press reports, Kocharian was concerned about the bitter clash between the two men and told Hovsepian to cede the parliament seat to Orinats Yerkir.

The seat became vacant in early June after its previous holder, Aram Harutiunian, was appointed minister for urban development -- one of the three ministerial posts reserved for Orinats Yerkir in the ruling cabinet. Sargsian’s victory raised to 22 the number of lawmakers affiliated with Baghdasarian’s party which has the second largest faction in the 131-member National Assembly.

(Photolur photo: Artur Baghdasarian.)
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