By Shakeh Avoyan
Candidates backed by a ruling party proved victorious in major communities where local elections were staged last Sunday.
A total of 252 communities, including eight towns, in Armenia’s Lori, Tavush and Armavir regions were electing their mayors and council of elders on October 16.
In the town of Vanadzor where three candidates contested the mayor’s office incumbent mayor Samvel Darpinian of the Republican Party received 25,017 votes, and his main rival, nonpartisan Gagik Hovsepian received 19,800 votes. Candidate Andranik Ghukasian from the Communist Party gathered an insignificant number of votes – 1,283.
District election commission head Minas Sayadian boasted of how elections in Lori favorable compared to the votes in other regions.
“The elections here were held smoothly, without any incidents, and were positively evaluated by the Central Election Commission as compared to elections held in other places,” he told RFE/RL. “The shortcomings observed in the course of the elections cannot affect the final outcomes.”
In the town of Berd in the Tavush region Andranik Sharian of the Republican Party won a four-candidate contest with 2,229 votes, three times as many votes as collected by his main rival Hrachik Atoyan.
The incumbent mayor in Noyemberian lost to a fellow partisan, and another Republican candidate was successful in mayoral elections in Stepanavan.
Elections in Echmiadzin (or Vagharshapat), Armavir region, were staged against the background of the hottest pre-election atmosphere in this year’s local elections.
The town’s mayor was not seeking reelection this time. Two of the four candidates were engaged in fierce struggle.
In the end, the winner was Gagik Avakian, a protégé of General Manvel Grigorian, who gathered 18,000 votes by preliminary results. His main rival Yervand Aghvanian managed to win 5,000 votes. The votes of the other two candidates were incomparably low – 200 and 140 votes.
District election commission chairman Arsen Davtian told RFE/RL that as of 2 pm. on Monday, which is the deadline for submitting official complaints, they had received no complaint.
Meanwhile, numerous calls to RFE/RL’s office from residents of Echmiadzin suggest a different picture.
One caller suggested that a group of people wearing military uniforms were interfering in the course of the ballot at one polling station.
Those complaining were afraid to introduce themselves as they feared for their personal safety. “The polling station is near our building, we witnessed everything,” said one caller without giving her name.
“We don’t want to have trouble after elections,” said another caller, who wished to remain anonymous.
One of the supporters of the losing candidate said they thought it senseless to lodge a complaint to ‘a totally biased and controlled electoral commission’, so, he said, they had taken their complaint to the Central Election Commission. He said that all possible violations took place, such as double voting, vote by people not registered in Echmiadzin, open ballot. At the same time, he added, proxies did not have the opportunity to document and register violations, women were insulted, men were threatened, and generally ‘an atmosphere of fear and terror reigned’ in the town.
The pre-election campaign in Echmiadzin was marred by alleged kidnappings of Yervand Aghvanian’s supporters ostensibly authorized by General Manvel Grigorian.
At least nine men representing the election challenger, Yervand Aghvanian, reportedly disappeared during a disrupted campaign rally last Thursday. Aghvanian’s aides then described that as the latest manifestation of what they call a campaign of intimidation of local voters unleashed by the representative of Armenia’s top brass.
Police in Echmiadzin refused to investigate the alleged hostage taking.
Echmiadzin and surrounding villages have long been considered a de facto fiefdom of Grigorian and another top army general, Seyran Saroyan. The two former truck drivers rose to prominence during the war 1991-1994 for Nagorno-Karabakh, first as militia leaders and then as commanders of regular army units. They both have extensive business interests in the Echmiadzin area and other parts of Armenia.