By Karine Kalantarian
The Republican Party (HHK) of Prime Minister Andranik Markarian highllighted its grip on local government bodies on Sunday when a candidate representing it won a tightly contested election in a northeastern Armenian town.
Varuzhan Nersisian, the incumbent mayor of Ijevan, the administrative center of the Tavush region, was narrowly reelected for a third consecutive term in a vote uncharacteristically calm and peaceful for Armenia. The local electoral body said he won almost 49 percent of the vote, edging his challenger, businessman Grisha Sargsian by only 346 votes. No opposition candidates were in the running.
The reported turnout was also unusually high for an Armenian local election, with almost 74 percent of Ijevan’s 11,700 eligible voters casting their ballots.
Sargsian, who owns a local woodworking factory, was endorsed by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), a junior partner in Markarian’s cabinet, and the People’s Deputy group of pro-establishment members of parliament. Some of them were in Ijevan to monitor the ballot. They said they found no major irregularities.
“Talk to people and they’ll tell you that there have never been elections like this before,” Sargsian confirmed.
“Maybe Ijevan will be the precursor of democratic elections in Armenia,” suggested one of his proxies.
The HHK is seen as the most influential and powerful of President Robert Kocharian’s allies, controlling most of the ministries and local government bodies. The party will be a key contender in nationwide local polls scheduled for October. Its coalition allies and the Armenian opposition have also pledged to actively participate in the polls.
Armenian local elections have been marred by violence and shootouts in the past and there are concerns that the same could happen this time as well. A Dashnaktsutyun leader warned last month that the vote could end in bloodshed unless the authorities take urgent measures to ensure its freedom and fairness.