Leaders of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) approved on Tuesday the decision by the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) to abandon its seats in Yerevan’s new municipal council in protest against the alleged rigging of the weekend mayoral elections.
Both Dashnaktsutyun and the HAK have refused to accept the official vote results that gave a landslide victory to President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK). Speaking at a rally on Monday, the HAK’s top leader, Levon Ter-Petrosian, accused the authorities of holding “the ugliest election in Armenia’s history” and said his opposition alliance will therefore boycott the city’s Council of Elders.
According to the Central Election Commission, the HAK won 17.4 percent of the vote, giving it 13 seats in the 65-member council. Under Armenian law, the opposition’s refusal to take up those seats means they will remain vacant throughout the assembly’s four-year tenure.
Levon Zurabian, a top Ter-Petrosian aide, defended the boycott on Tuesday. “After the large-scale falsifications … our decision to accept those few wretched mandates, which were thrown to the opposition like a bone, would mean agreeing with those falsifications and accepting this corrupt political system, this state crime committed against the Armenian people,” he said.
Speaking to RFE/RL, Zurabian also argued that the HAK would also be unable to influence decisions made by the Yerevan mayor as well as the central government. “We have no possibility of furthering our political agenda with those 13 wretched mandates,” he said.
Vahan Hovannisian, the leader of the Dashnaktsutyun faction in the Armenian parliament, and Armen Rustamian, the de facto head of the nationalist party’s leadership in Armenia, agreed with the HAK’s decision. “From their standpoint and given the form of political struggle adopted by them, they did the right thing,” Hovannisian told RFE/RL. “That is, they stayed within the bounds of their logic.”
According to Hovannisian, Dashnaktsutyun might well have done the same had it won any seats in the municipal assembly. “I’m not sure that if he won seats in the Council of Elders and saw all these ugly things, we would see a point in working in such a council,” he said.
The CEC tally showed Dashnaktsutyun, which was until recently part of Armenia’s governing coalition, winning 4.7 percent of the vote and falling short of the 7 percent vote threshold for being represented in the Yerevan council. In a statement on Monday, the party described the May 31 polls as deeply flawed, alleging widespread vote buying, use of “administrative resources” by the governing parties and voter intimidation by government-connected wealthy individuals.
“The problem is that the authorities often entrust the electoral process to neighborhood thugs who … turn it into a game where stakes are purely material,” complained Hovannisian.
“If things continue like this, elections will become a mere procedure for reproducing the authorities,” Rustamian said, for his part. “Countering the reproduction of the authorities must become the number one task of all political forces, including Dashnaktsutyun.” He said they should work together and develop “mechanisms for a serious struggle” against chronic electoral fraud in Armenia.
Meanwhile, the HHK criticized the opposition boycott. “That is not the best form of political struggle,” said Eduard Sharmazanov, the spokesman for the ruling party. “The modern history of Armenia has showed that those political forces that boycotted [parliament] and renounced mandates hurt themselves in the first instance.”