By Hovannes Shoghikian
A candidate of Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) won a weekend repeat parliamentary election, solidifying its control over the National Assembly.
According to official election results, businessman Khachik Manukian garnered 44.2 percent of the vote in a single-mandate constituency in central Armenia, defeating two other pro-establishment candidates and a prominent opposition leader.
Manukian had already been narrowly elected from the electoral district No. 15 during the May 12 nationwide parliamentary elections amid allegations of massive vote rigging made by Mnatsakan Mnatsakanian, his main rival and the mayor of the local town of Talin. The outcry led the HHK leadership to force Manukian to renounce his parliament mandate. The vote was re-run as a result.
The official vote results released on Monday showed Mnatsakanian coming in second with 27.7 percent of the vote. Mnatsakanian was endorsed by the Prosperous Armenia Party, one of the two junior partners in the HHK-led governing coalition.
The other coalition partner, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), also contested the repeat election. Its candidate, Gurgen Shahinian, finished third with about 20 percent.
Both Mnatsakanian and Shahinian conceded defeat and said they will not challenge the election outcome. Still, in separate interviews with RFE/RL, they both complained that the HHK candidate heavily relied on so-called “administrative resources” which are widely believed to have greatly helped his party score a landslide victory in the May 12 polls.
Opposition leader Raffi Hovannisian, another major candidate who was shown winning only 3.4 percent of votes, called the election deeply flawed but still congratulated Manukian. “The election process was fundamentally unfree and unfair, with a variety of government levers and resources being applied to voters in inappropriate and often unlawful fashion,” Hovannisian said in a statement. “Hopefully, Armenia's leaders will discharge their responsibilities with greater integrity and legality in the future.”
“In the interim, I congratulate Mr. Manukian and wish him well in the service of his constituents from the 15th district,” he added.
The ballot was found to be largely democratic by election-monitoring organization It’s Your Choice, which claimed to have deployed observers in all of the constituency’s 84 polling stations. “There were some shortcomings,” its chairman, Harutiun Hambarstumian, told RFE/RL. “But they could not have affect the election results.”
Not all local observers agreed, however. One of them, representing a non-governmental youth organization, monitored Sunday’s voting in Manukian’s native village of Mastara, also part of the constituency. According to Ashot Ghazarian, Manukian’s loyalists openly agitated for the HHK candidate despite a legal ban on any campaigning on polling day.
In another local village, Ujan, the chairwoman of the precinct election commission, Gyulnara Melkonian, alleged harassment by local residents sympathetic to Shahinian and called in police. Melkonian claimed that they became “aggressive” after she thwarted their attempts to win the Dashnaktsutyun candidate extra votes by illegal means.
Manukian’s victory raises to 65 the number of seats officially held by the HHK in Armenia’s 131-member parliament. Sarkisian’s party is also assured of the backing of several ostensibly independent lawmakers, giving it an absolute majority in the National Assembly.
(Photolur photo: Khachik Manukian.)