By Irina Hovannisian
Hundreds of people rallied in a small Armenian town for a second consecutive day on Thursday in protest against serious fraud which they said decided the outcome of a parliamentary election held in their constituency.
The protesters were supporters of Talin’s Mayor Mnatsakan Mnatsakanian who ran for parliament in the local single-mandate electoral district as an independent and was narrowly defeated by his main rival representing the governing Republican Party of Armenia (HHK). According to the district election commission, the HHK candidate, Khachik Manukian, won by a margin of 162 votes.
Mnatsakanian refused to concede defeat, demanding a vote recount in three local villages where Manukian’s supporters allegedly stuffed ballots and resorted to other irregularities. Recounting of ballots cast in those villages on the party list basis exposed major violations that benefited the HHK and the pro-presidential Prosperous Armenia (BHK).
The refusal by the district commission to recount ballots cast for individual candidates as well sparked angry street protests in Talin late Wednesday. Dozens of baton-wielding police, reinforced by special security forces sent from Yerevan, were deployed the next day in and outside the main local government building, which also houses the election body.
The unusually strong police presence only added to the protesters’ fury. “Why are they holding truncheons?” said on one of them. “To beat the people? They only prove that this is a dictatorship. Will the people be wrong to mount an uprising after this?”
In the meantime, Mnatsakanian’s proxies tried in vain to get the commission chairman, Hovannes Asatrian, to call an emergency meeting of the body and consider their demand backed by four of its nine members. Asatrian told RFE/RL that he is delaying the meeting for lack of a quorum, which is not required by Armenia’s recently amended Election Code.
“There is quorum,” countered another commission member. “All commission members are in the building.”
Mnatsakanian then unexpectedly withdrew his demand after consulting with his HHK-affiliated deputy Gabriel Avetisian behind the closed doors. The mayor declined a comment, while Avetisian claimed that the defeated candidate gave up because of a legal deadline for recounting which expired an hour later. He denied that the Talin mayor, whose rival was personally endorsed by Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian, faced pressure from Yerevan.
In spite of that, the angry crowd which waited outside the building did not immediately disperse. “We are thinking about ourselves, not about Mnatsakanian,” explained one man. “Our votes were stolen.”
“The people of Talin must not participate in the  presidential elections,” said another.
Many of the protesters agreed.