Riot police patrolled a village in central Armenia on Wednesday amid lingering tensions that were sparked there by a recent election of its mayor marred by violence and fraud allegations.
Local residents said the police are anxious to prevent clashes between supporters of the two election candidates representing the country’s ruling Republican (HHK) and Prosperous Armenia (BHK) parties.
Official results of the December 26 election showed Talabani Sadeyan, the incumbent BHK-affiliated mayor of Charchakis village, defeating his rival, Kyarim Khudoyan, by a margin of eight votes.
Armenia’s Special Investigative Service (SIS) said on Tuesday that Khudoyan’s brother Kyazim and another, female resident of the village mostly populated by Yezidis have been arrested on charges of electoral fraud. The SIS said the they and other supporters of the defeated candidate burst into the Charchakis polling station and stole all ballots shortly after the vote count. If convicted, the two suspects will risk heavy fines and up to five years in prison.
According to Harutiun Ohanian, a member of a regional election commission, there were about 50 intruders and almost all of them were women. The ballots have still not been found, he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
Khudoyan supporters deny stealing the ballots and claim that they stormed the polling station to protest against blatant fraud and demand a vote recount. “The vote count wasn’t fair,” the HHK candidate’s wife told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “There were too many invalid ballots [cast for Sadeyan] and the commission counted them.”
“The police officers forced us out, and I don’t know what happened to those papers,” she said.
One man complained that he was not allowed to cast a ballot on behalf of his “illiterate” wife. He claimed that election officials and police officers turned a blind eye to similar actions by Sadeyan’s supporters.
Ohanian insisted that the voting was peaceful and that the commission received no formal complaints from the Khudoyan camp. “In the absence of the ballots, you can allege anything,” he said. “It could be that he deliberately stole them to make such allegations.”
Khudoyan challenged the vote results at the Administrative Court in Yerevan. The court refused to annul them, however.
The national leaderships of the BHK and the HHK have still not reacted to the standoff. The HHK is led by President Serzh Sarkisian.