By Karine Kalantarian
Gagik Beglarian, the incumbent pro-government mayor of Yerevan’s central administrative district, was declared on Monday the winner of a weekend local election which the Armenian opposition hoped to use for kick-starting its anti-government campaign.
The Central Election Commission (CEC) said Beglarian won over 70 percent of votes cast in the Kentron district on Sunday. His opposition challenger, Ararat Zurabian, got less than 26 percent, according to the official vote results that also showed a voter turnout of just 34.7 percent.
Zurabian, who is a senior member of the main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), refused to concede defeat, rejecting the official vote results as fraudulent. His campaign claimed to have observed more than 50 instances of serious irregularities as voting drew to a close on Sunday evening. Campaign officials said on Monday that they are preparing to present evidence of the alleged fraud to prosecutors.
The allegations were echoed by Hovsep Khurshudian, a CEC member affiliated with the opposition Zharangutyun party. Khurshudian said he witnessed about 50 government loyalists burst into a polling station in Kentron and stuff ballots there. Precinct commission officials did not try to stop them, while police officers arrived only after the men left the scene, he said.
“The absence of police officers during the incident gives me reason to say that it was done with the authorities’ connivance,” Khurshudian told RFE/RL.
Sona Ayvazian, a civil rights activist who monitored the vote in another polling station, reported the presence of unauthorized persons there. Ayvazian said she photographed some of them only to be attacked and have her camera taken away by them. She said they returned the camera without the film afterwards.
Also, an RFE/RL correspondent saw groups of men standing just outside many Kentron precincts in violation of Armenia’s Electoral Code throughout polling day.
A spokesman for Beglarian, Gagik Gyanjumian, insisted that the vote was free and fair. Nonetheless, election officials said the Beglarian campaign demanded vote recounts in 12 Kentron precincts.
The HAK and its top leader, former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, declared Zurabian’s victory in the election a key objective as it tried to mount a new political offensive against Armenia’s leadership. Ter-Petrosian personally campaigned for Zurabian at the last opposition rally held on Friday.
The Ter-Petrosian-led opposition boycotted local elections that were also held in five other Yerevan districts on Sunday.