By Astghik Bedevian
Residents of Nor Hajn, a small industrial town north of Yerevan, chose a new mayor on Sunday, two months after reelecting the previous local government chief despite his arrest and prosecution on murder charges.
The shock reelection of Armen Keshishian came shortly after he reportedly shot and killed a local rival, Ashot Mkhitarian, in broad daylight after a bitter public argument. He has been kept in pre-trial detention since September 24 on charges of a “premeditated murder committed in a way that endangered many peoples’ lives.” The circumstances of the incident are still not fully known.
Keshishian predictably resigned from his post, leading the Central Election Commission to call a fresh election in Nor Hajn. It was won by Gevorg Avetisian, a senior member of a trade union representing thousands of employees of Armenia’s national power utility, by a margin of just 63 votes. Incidentally, the murdered man ran the local branch of the electricity distribution network. But it is not clear whether he had any connection with Avetisian.
Official election results showed Avetisian garnering 39 percent of the vote, slightly more than his main challenger. “I spent a whole day monitoring the voting in one local polling station and did not witness any serious violations,” a senior member of the opposition National Democratic Union (AZhM) party, Aleksandr Butaev, told RFE/RL.
An AZhM candidate also contested the poll and finished third with about 18 percent of the vote.
Many of the Nor Hajn residents who voted for Keshishian in October say they did so to prevent his controversial challenger, Babken Markarian, from becoming their new mayor. Markarian chose not to stand in Sunday’s election.