In a rare electoral setback for President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK), the long-serving mayor of the northern Armenian town of Ijevan was defeated Sunday by a candidate representing the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), a key partner in the ruling coalition.
Official preliminary results of the mayoral election showed the HHK-affiliated incumbent Varuzhan Nersisian winning less than 39 percent of the vote. His sole challenger and bitter rival, Vartan Ghalumian, won the ballot with 57.3 percent.
Nersisian, who has governed the administrative center of Tavush province for over 13 years, cried foul even before the closure of the polls. He accused Ghalumian of handing out vote bribes in the form of cash and flour.
“I have informed law-enforcement bodies about that,” Nersisian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “The whole Ijevan is talking about that.”
Local police detained two men on suspicion of vote buying on Sunday morning. They both were released without charge several hours later.
The Ghalumian campaign and senior BHK figures, who arrived from Yerevan to monitor the election, strongly denied the vote buying allegations.
Nersisian lodged no formal protests with the local election commission as of Monday afternoon.
The incumbent mayor has been at loggerheads with Ijevan’s municipal council for the past three years. Most of its members, including Ghalumian, have accused him of corruption and mismanagement.
The election outcome could give the BHK a psychological boost in its uneasy relationship with the presidential HHK. Reported friction between the two parties stems from BHK leader Gagik Tsarukian’s apparent reluctance to reaffirm support for President Sarkisian’s reelection in 2013.
Vartan Bostanjian, a BHK parliamentarian, said late last week that Tsarukian’s party is capable of garnering more votes than the HHK or any other political force in parliamentary elections due next May. HHK spokesman Eduard Sharmazanov dismissed that claim.
The HHK holds the majority of seats in the current Armenian parliament and controls the vast majority of local governments across the country.