By Hrach Melkumian
Up to 2,000 people rallied in the central town of Hrazdan on Monday to denounce alleged fraud and violence that marred a tightly contested weekend election official results of which gave victory to its incumbent mayor Aram Danielian.
According to preliminary figures released by the local election commission, Danielian, who represents the governing Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), defeated his challenger, Artur Shaboyan, by a razor-thin margin of less than 350 votes. The commission agreed to recount ballots after receiving dozens of complaints from the latter’s campaign headquarters.
Shaboyan is not affiliated with any party and was endorsed by the Hrazdan branch of an organization uniting veterans of the war in Nagorno-Karabakh. Addressing the crowd, he accused Danielian of resorting to large-scale vote buying and alleged a wholesale beating his proxies and supporters.
Violence reportedly broke out outside three polling stations as the voting drew to a close late on Sunday. Shaboyan supporters said they were attacked and indiscriminately beaten up by special police forces sent from Yerevan. They said the police used truncheons and electric-shock equipment to intimidate them.
“They first swore at us,” said one middle-aged man with a wound on his forehead. “One of us said, ‘We are people, we are not animals’. And they immediately started beating us.”
Another proxy of the mayor’s challenger who identified herself as Astghik claimed that the police “nearly killed” a man and beat up a boy outside another polling station.
“I toured the town during the voting and witnessed the violence,” Shaboyan told RFE/RL. In his words, the beatings were orchestrated by the local police chief who he claimed “sponsored those who handed vote bribes.”
But Danielian denied the charges, saying that the police used force only against those who “disrupted public order.” “I would say that a normal election was held and all residents of the town would agree with me,” he told RFE/RL.
Like Danielian, most local government chiefs in Armenia are affiliated with the HHK, which is led by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian. The HHK grip on local governments was underscored by the May 22 election of Markarian’s 27-year-old son as prefect of Yerevan’s Avan district.
Elections in the majority of other local government bodies across the country are scheduled for October. A leader of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), the HHK’s junior coalition partner, warned last February that failure to ensure their freedom and fairness could spark violent clashes between supporters of rival candidates.
“If we fail to deepen electoral reforms to the extent required by international standards, we could witness very sad results such as clashes in local constituencies,” Armen Rustamian told RFE/RL.