By Anush Martirosian and Ruben Meloyan
President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) has left the clearest indication yet that it will withdraw support from one of its senior members governing a Yerevan district where opposition candidates did well in the last national elections.
Hovannes Shahinian, a member of the HHK’s governing Council, was elected governor of the Arabkir district in 2005 with the help of the central government and then Defense Minister Sarkisian in particular. He is now seeking a second three-year term in office in a local election slated for September 7.
The HHK has been in no rush to endorse Shahinian and is reportedly considering throwing its weight behind a wealthy businessman who is also contesting the vote. Party sources have privately confirmed newspaper reports that the HHK leadership feels he did do not enough to earn the ruling party many votes in the last presidential and parliamentary elections held in February 2008 and May 2007 respectively.
Arabkir was one of the few communities where official vote results gave victory to Levon Ter-Petrosian, the main opposition presidential candidate. The opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party of Raffi Hovannisian similarly won the 2007 legislative polls there on the party list basis.
Even so, two HHK candidates, Levon Sargsian and Zohrab Zohrabian, were elected to parliament from single-mandate electoral districts encompassing Arabkir. Both men were thought to be friends of Shahinian’s until recently. However, none of them has so far voiced support for the incumbent district chief, stoking speculation about his fall from grace.
In an interview with RFE/RL late last week, Shahinian insisted that the two parliament deputies “remain my friends” but acknowledged that he will not necessarily secure their endorsement. “As friends, they can stand by me,” he said. “If they don’t, I will not have a grudge against anyone.”
Shahinian also admitted that he is no longer assured of HHK support. “They may and may not make a political decision,” he said.
The HHK’s smaller Executive Body headed by President Sarkisian pointedly declined to endorse Shahinian during a meeting late Wednesday that focused on the upcoming Arabkir vote.
“We have not yet made a final decision on our candidate,” Razmik Zohrabian, deputy chairman of the HHK, told RFE/RL on Thursday. “Proposals will be made after the clarification of certain issues.” He said the HHK, which controls most local governments across Armenia, is currently ascertaining “which candidates has better chances” to win the election.
“But we will not force anyone to withdraw their candidacy. They simply should make a choice,” Zohrabian added in an apparent reference to Shahinian.
(Photolur photo: Hovannes Shahinian.)