By Hasmik Smbatian and Karine Kalantarian
A leader of the Orinats Yerkir Party, a junior partner in Armenia’s governing coalition, on Thursday claimed to be confident about becoming Yerevan’s next mayor and welcomed former President Levon Ter-Petrosian’s participation in the upcoming municipal elections.
“I am confident that I will win, and nobody can prove the opposite,” said Heghine Bisharian, the party’s deputy chairwoman. “I am moving forward with that premise.”
Bisharian was chosen last weekend to head the list of Orinats Yerkir candidates in the May 31 elections of a municipal council empowered to appoint future mayors of Armenia’s capital. Under Armenian law, the top candidate of a party winning at least 40 percent of the vote would automatically be elected mayor.
President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) makes no secret of its intention to try to clear that threshold. Its electoral list is topped by Yerevan’s incumbent Mayor Gagik Beglarian. The HHK is already facing opposition allegations that it will try to rig the elections.
“I am not naïve to think that the elections will be fully transparent and clean,” said Bisharian. “There have always been and will be violations.” She predicted at the same time the elections “will go well” and see a high voter turnout.
Bisharian also welcomed Ter-Petrosian’s surprise decision to run for Yerevan mayor at the head of the electoral list of his Armenian National Congress (HAK). “Right from the beginning I welcomed everyone’s participation [in the elections,]” she told a news conference. “[Ter-Petrosian] was absolutely right to participate.”
Orinats Yerkir and its top leader, Artur Baghdasarian, came close to endorsing Ter-Petrosian in the February 2008 presidential election. Negotiations between Baghdasarian and Ter-Petrosian broke down at the last minute, prompting fierce criticism of Orinats Yerkir from the ex-president and his loyalists. Orinats Yerkir subsequently joined President Serzh Sarkisian’s coalition government.
“I don’t want the municipal elections to be considered national elections,” Bisharian said in an apparent reference to the HAK’s pledge to turn the mayoral race into a “second round of the presidential election.” HAK leaders have said they would use the mayoral polls for achieving their key aim: Sarkisian’s resignation and the holding of fresh national elections.
According to former parliament speaker Tigran Torosian, the HAK’s failure to form an electoral alliance with another major opposition force, the Zharangutyun party, was a major blow to opposition chances of gaining control over the Yerevan municipality. “I am more than convinced that if Zharangutyun and the Armenian National Congress participated in the elections with a single list they would garner a lot more votes and could even hope to pass the 40 percent threshold,” he said on Thursday.
Torosian, who is now an independent parliamentarian, told journalists that Zharangutyun’s decision to drop out of the race puts the HHK, Orinats Yerkir and the two other coalition parties in a better position to win a majority of seats in the municipal assembly. “It is very likely that they will form a new coalition within the framework of the Yerevan Council of Elders,” he said.