A former transport minister who was accused of plotting to assassinate Armenia’s top leaders became on Tuesday to a second candidate disqualified from an upcoming parliamentary by-election in Yerevan.
Eduard Madatian as well as Nikol Pashinian, a jailed opposition figure, were the most prominent of six individuals who expressed their intention to stand in the election scheduled for January 10. Their likely failure to do so makes the vote result highly unpredictable.
Under Armenian law, only those citizens who have permanently resided in the country for at least five years preceding an election can run for the National Assembly. The Armenian police’s Department of Visas and Passports (OVIR) refused to certify Pashinian’s five-year residency last week, saying that he lived abroad from March 2008 through July this year.
According to Lieutenant-General Hovannes Hunanian, a deputy chief of the national police, the OVIR has also refused to provide the same document to Madatian. “He was refused several days ago for the same reason [as Pashinian,]” Hunanian told RFE/RL.
The OVIR chief, Norayr Muradkhanian, confirmed the information. “They received a written answer yesterday,” he told RFE/RL.
Madatian had fled Armenia in late 2004 to avoid prosecution for allegedly masterminding what the authorities said was a failed attempt on the life of then President Robert Kocharian and other top officials. He returned home in August 2008 after the criminal case was dropped for still unknown reasons.
Some Armenian newspapers said in recent days that Madatian enjoys the tacit backing of President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK). HHK representatives did not confirm those reports. The ruling party has yet to specify whether it will field or endorse a candidate for the by-election that will be held in a constituency covering a part of central Yerevan.
None of the four candidates remaining in contention were expected to make a strong showing before the OVIR refusals. One of them is a comedian while another leads a tiny opposition party and is known for his eccentric behavior and statements. Another contender, Hmayak Hovannisian, is a well-known political scientist who has been affiliated with several opposition parties in the past.
The fourth one, Ara Simonian, represents the National Unity Party, a once influential opposition group that now supports the Sarkisian administration.