By Shakeh Avoyan
A businessman close to President Robert Kocharian was declared on Monday the winner of Sunday’s local election in Yerevan’s central administrative district, but his opposition challenger refused to concede defeat, alleging serious fraud.
Preliminary official results of the vote showed Gagik Beglarian, the incumbent prefect of the Kentron district, winning 86 percent of the vote. Ruzan Khachatrian, the opposition candidate representing the Artarutyun (Justice), alliance had only 12 percent, according to the local election commission.
“The election in Kentron proceeded peacefully and there were no serious incidents,” its chairman, Yeghishe Terterian, told RFE/RL.
The election was monitored by representatives of the Council of Europe. They said they visited 50 polling stations and witnessed no serious irregularities. Still, their preliminary statement stopped short of calling the vote free and fair.
Khachatrian, for her part, accused the authorities of rigging the ballot by inflating voter lists and allowing Beglarian supporters to vote more than once. “My proxies and commission members insist that there were people who went to polling stations and voted for four or even five times,” she told RFE/RL. “They couldn’t do anything because they were not allowed to check passports and write down their numbers.”
The opposition candidate earlier accused Beglarian of attempting to bribe her proxies and the few election officials representing Artarutyun. The prefect’s campaign chief denied the claims.
The vote in Kentron, Armenia’s biggest and wealthiest community, was the most politicized of local elections that are being held across the country. Artarutyun has not fielded any candidates in other constituencies, highlighting the lack of opposition interest in the polls. Its leaders avoided direct participation in Khachatrian’s campaign and are now preparing for another showdown with the government during the upcoming referendum on Kocharian’s constitutional amendments.
Khachatrian claimed that the authorities tested in Kentron “new mechanisms for electoral fraud which will be used during the referendum.” “It’s now harder to resort to ballot box stuffing, but there are other pitfalls in this electoral code,” she said, adding that multiple voting will be the main vote rigging technique at the referendum.
Sunday also saw an election in Yerevan’s second largest district, Arabkir. Its acting prefect, Hovannes Shahinian, held off a challenge from another pro-establishment candidate and won 70 percent of the vote. Less than one thid of Arabkir’s 87,960 eligible voters cast their ballots. The voter turnout in Kentron was 43 percent, according to official figures.
(Photolur photo: Gagik Beglarian.)