By Anna Saghabalian
The government succeeded on Monday in ensuring the election of its preferred candidate as head of Armenia’s biggest and most prestigious university at its third attempt in two months.
The Governing Council of Yerevan State University (YSU) voted by 41 to 24 to appoint Ara Simonian as its rector after weeks of government pressure reportedly exerted on members.
Simonian, a longtime YSU pro-rector and a senior member of the governing Republican Party of Armenia, got only 20 votes during the previous rounds of voting that took place as recently as on March 22. His main challenger and dean of YSU’s Law Department, Gagik Ghazinian, was denied a narrow victory after one of the votes cast in his favor was controversially invalidated by officials in charge of the secret ballot.
The government has since worked behind the scenes to tilt the balance in its favor. Seven of the YSU council members representing the government, including Justice Minister David Harutiunian, were replaced by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian without an official explanation last week. Another member of the body who represented YSU students, Stepan Yenokian, was unexpectedly drafted to the army.
Yenokian was until then exempt from compulsory military service due to poor health. Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, who himself was elected to head the YSU council last January, claimed on Monday that the Defense Ministry’s decision to subject the young man to a fresh medical examination had nothing to do with the rector’s election. “The [doctors’] conclusion was that Yenokian has limited health but that limited health does not entitle him to exemption from military service,” he told reporters.
Sarkisian, who also leads the YSU alumni association, further insisted that there is nothing wrong with the drastic change of heart by some council members in favor of the government-backed candidate. “Fifty days is enough time for people to reconsider their decisions,” he said.
The governing bodies of YSU and other state-run universities were formed by the government last year as part of a structural reform of Armenia’s system of higher education. They consist of government officials, faculty members and student representatives, and have the exclusive authority to approve university budgets and elect rectors.
(Photolur photo: Sarkisian, right, congratulating Simonian on his election.)