By Shakeh Avoyan
A 27-year-old son of Prime Minister Andranik Markarian is on course to become the youngest head of an Armenian local government as a result of an election in Yerevan’s Avan administrative district to be held next month.
Taron Markarian’s participation in the May 22 vote was on Wednesday confirmed by his newly appointed campaign manager, parliament deputy Gagik Melikian. Melikian, who is affiliated with the premier’s Republican Party (HHK), said he has already opened as many as 14 campaign offices in the area.
The election was called after the unexpected resignation earlier this month of Avan’s incumbent prefect, Hamlet Khachatrian. The latter attributed the move to his “health problems.”
With the Armenian opposition effectively boycotting the election, the younger Markarian could face a serious challenge only from Petros Amirian, a local leader of the Yerkrapah Union of Nagorno-Karabakh war veterans. Amirian is also a relative of General Manvel Grigorian, chairman of the organization linked to the Armenian military. He said he has still not decided whether to contest the ballot.
Melikian, meanwhile, told RFE/RL that the prime minister’s son and his supporters will go so far as to repair all local roads in order to win the hearts and minds of Avan’s population. He denied that this will amount to a massive vote bribe and said the vote will be free and fair.
Government-connected wealthy candidates routinely pave potholed roads neglected by the authorities to boost their chances in various Armenian elections. But this is the first time that one of them admits doing so.
Armenia’s electoral code explicitly forbids candidates from providing any material compensation or services to voters. However, vote buying has become commonplace in recent years.
Melikian also claimed that Andranik Markarian, who lives in the largely working class area with his family, reluctantly agreed to let his son run for the job.
Elections in the majority of other local government bodies, mostly controlled by the HHK, across Armenia are scheduled for October.