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By Ruzanna Stepanian
Leaders of Armenia’s largest governing party gave on Tuesday conflicting explanations for the defeat of a candidate who formally represented it in a mayoral election in the town of Alaverdi.

Eduard Sharmazanov, who was nominated by the youth wing of Prime Minister Andranik Markarian’s Republican Party (HHK), was controversially defeated by his main challenger who runs the local electricity network.

The official election winner, Artur Nalbandian, is seen as a protégé of the regional governor Henrik Kochinian who is also affiliated with the HHK. Sharmazanov and his supporters blame Kochinian for their defeat, accusing him of breaking the party ranks.

“I will raise this issue with the party’s leadership,” the Republican youth leader, Armen Ashotian, told RFE/RL. “There is clearly a problem with party discipline.”

But other party leaders said Kochinian did nothing wrong. “Support means taking part in the campaign, having speeches,” said Galust Sahakian, the leader of the HHK faction in parliament. “None of that happened.”

Sahakian also argued that the Republicans did not decide to contest the election in earnest. “If we had fully participated in the election and invested all of our resources, the results would have been absolutely different,” he said. “The youths simply tried to win on their own, which I appreciate.”

Ashotian charged that the vote was marred by “numerous irregularities” such as vote bribes and intimidation that affected its results. But he said the defeated candidate will not challenge the outcome.

An RFE/RL correspondent at the scene saw scores of mostly elderly voters bused to the polling stations by both rival camps. Some of them did not remember the names of the candidates they were asked to choose as Alaverdi’s new mayor.

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 in Armenia. 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.
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