By Ruzanna Stepanian
An Armenian court on Tuesday controversially disqualified the two main challengers of a government-backed retired army general from standing in next month’s parliamentary elections, effectively predetermining his victory in a constituency just south of Yerevan.
The court of the first instance in the town of Echmiadzin annulled the decision by the local election commission to register businessman Hakob Hakobian and a local opposition-leaning activist, Susanna Harutiunian, as candidates. The ruling, which is not subject to appeal, came in response to a lawsuit filed by another, pro-government candidate who claimed that they forged voters’ signatures to win registration.
Hakobian and Harutiunian condemned it as unfair and politically motivated, saying that the authorities are trying to make sure that the recently demobilized General Seyran Saroyan is elected to the National Assembly from the constituency encompassing Echmiadzin and nearby villages. “This was done to pave Seyran’s way to the button-pressing place,” Hakobian told RFE/RL.
Tension in the area rose after unknown assailants reportedly opened fire on Hakobian’s empty car and burned down Harutiunian’s campaign office in Echmiadzin over the weekend. Both candidates blamed the attacks on Saroyan. The latter vehemently denied any involvement, however.
Law-enforcement authorities pledged to investigate the incidents but have not detained anyone so far. They instead opened on Monday a criminal case against Hakobian on charges of kidnapping the father of a local resident who claims that his signature was forged by the businessman.
Hakobian, who has been a parliament deputy for the past eight years, laughed off the accusations, saying that they are part of “repressions” launched by the government against himself and his supporters. He claimed that five of them are being kept in police custody without any explanation.
Hakobian, who is nominally affiliated with the governing Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), was already charged with assault and tax evasion after allegedly provoking a mass brawl outside a natural gas distribution station near Echmiadzin last October. The incident appears to have been instrumental in the HHK leadership’s subsequent decision to endorse Saroyan’s parliament bid.
“The state machine is thus giving Saroyan the green light to reach parliament,” Harutiunian told RFE/RL hours before the announcement of the court’s decision. “They should not hold any elections in this district. It would be more honest to appoint a deputy from here than to imitate democracy.”
(Photolur photo: Hakob Hakobian.)