By Astghik Bedevian and Shakeh Avoyan
The opposition candidate in the weekend election in Yerevan’s central Kentron district accused on Friday its incumbent prefect and her main rival of attempting to bribe members of local election commissions affiliated with her People’s Party of Armenia (HZhK).
Ruzan Khachatrian alleged that an individual close to Kentron chief Gagik Beglarian has been offering them to turn a blind eye to electoral fraud in exchange for money.
“It’s been three or four days since a certain Ruben Sadoyan began meeting our commission members, taking money out of his pocket and offering it to them,” she said. “In one such case, he even tried to forcibly stuff money into a commission member’s pocket.”
Beglarian’s campaign chief, Gagik Gyanjumian, flatly denied the claims. “I have no such facts,” he told RFE/RL. “Those who make such statements but be held accountable for their baseless accusations.”
Gyanjumian claimed, for his part, that the opposition candidate’s representatives themselves visit his office and “ask for money.” “But we tell them that we can not do that,” he said.
Sunday’s election in Kentron is the most politicized of local polls that are being held across Armenia. It is the only community where the opposition Artarutyun alliance, of which the HZhK is a key member, fielded a candidate. Artarutyun and other opposition groups have essentially boycotted contests elsewhere in the country.
But even the bloc’s involvement in the Kentron race has been largely symbolic. Its leaders, including HZhK chairman Stepan Demirchian, have avoided any direct participation in Khachatrian’s campaign, mindful of her slim chances of success. None of them were present at a rally held by Khachatrian later on Friday. It attracted only a hundred people.
Sunday will also see an election in the city’s second most important district, Arabkir. It has shaped up as a two-horse race between the acting Arabkir prefect and a candidate of a small pro-establishment party. Neither man has alleged any irregularities so far.
The election in the neighboring Kanaker-Zeytun district, held last Sunday, was far more tense and tightly contested, with two front-runners (both of them loyal to the central government) trading angry accusations of vote rigging. The local election commission reported on Friday “blatant violations” and ordered the vote to be re-run on October 2.
“The elections did not take place in a normal fashion because there were numerous irregularities,” the commission chairman, Ararat Karapetian, told RFE/RL. He said the commission has asked Prosecutor’s Office of Yerevan to investigate the most serious irregularities registered in five local polling stations.