By Ruzanna Stepanian
Nearly two in three Armenians living outside Yerevan would like to elect their regional governors currently appointed by the central government, according to an opinion poll released on Friday.
Under the existing post-Soviet constitution, Armenia’s capital and ten “marzes,” or regions, are run by officials whose main function is to “implement the Government’s regional policy and coordinate the regional activities of republican executive bodies.” The regions do not have any legislative bodies that would hold the governors in check. In addition, the governors can effectively dismiss elected mayors of towns and villages.
The Armenian Center for National and International Studies (ACNIS), a private think-tank that conducted the poll, said 63.5 percent of a thousand people randomly interviewed outside Yerevan want to have elected governors because they believe the latter would be more accountable to them and more interested in addressing their problems. Only a fifth of respondents thought that the current regional chiefs are contributing to the development of their region.
A package of constitutional amendments drafted by President Robert Kocharian and his ruling coalition envisages no changes the existing system of regional governance. It would only introduce the election of Yerevan’s mayor by a municipal council.
Still, a separate survey conducted by the ACNIS suggests that just over half of Yerevan residents want to directly elect their mayor and only six percent support his or her indirect election. The direct election is also demanded by Armenia’s leading opposition forces that reject the constitutional changes.
The ACNIS polls also indicate widespread popular distrust in the elected administrations of the Yerevan districts, towns and villages. Over 70 percent of respondents in Yerevan and 60 percent outside it said they are unaware of activities of their community chiefs. Less than 30 percent approved of their work.
This should explain why the voter turnout in the most local elections held across Armenia in recent weeks has been well below 50 percent.