The ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) officially confirmed on Tuesday that it will not support Gyumri’s longtime and controversial Mayor Vartan Ghukasian if he decides to seek reelection in upcoming local polls.
Galust Sahakian, a deputy chairman of the HHK, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that it will back instead Samvel Balasanian, a mayoral candidate fielded by the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), the country’s second largest parliamentary force.
The announcement makes Ghukasian’s resignation all but a forgone conclusion. It came three days after he resigned as head of the HHK branch in Shirak province, of which Gyumri is the capital.
Sahakian attributed President Serzh Sarkisian’s decision to the HHK’s relatively poor showing in Gyumri during the May 6 parliamentary elections and media allegations of gross misconduct that have dogged Ghukasian ever since he took office in 1999.
Armenia - Gyumri Mayor Vartan Ghukasian, undated
“In the parliamentary elections, we garnered fewer votes than we expected in Gyumri,” Sahakian said. “This partly explains the situation.”
The BHK and its individual parliamentary candidates, including Balasanian, prevailed in all three Gyumri constituencies. Still, the party led by businessman Gagik Tsarukian trailed Sarkisian’s HHK in the nationwide vote tally.
The BHK went on to pull out of Armenia’s governing coalition, further indicating the possibility of challenging Sarkisian in a presidential election due in February 2013. Still, it stopped short of officially declaring itself an opposition force.
Media reports last week said that Sarkisian has decided to help Balasanian become Gyumri’s new mayor as part of an unofficial deal with the BHK. Balasanian, who owns one of Armenia’s largest breweries located in Gyumri, on Monday admitted meeting with the president last week. But he claimed that they did not discuss the mayoral election slated for September 9.
“When we say that we positively evaluate Balasanian’s candidacy that means we will either nominate or support Balasanian’s candidacy,” said the HHK’s Sahakian. He said the ruling party believes that the BHK candidate is experienced and competent enough to deal with challenges facing Armenia’s second largest city.
Ghukasian has still not announced whether he will run for reelection. Speaking to journalists on Saturday, the mayor did not rule out the possibility of his participation in the September 9 election.