The opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) said on Tuesday that it will not field or endorse any candidate in a mayoral election that will held in the country’s second largest city of Gyumri next month.
Levon Zurabian, the HAK coordinator, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that the bloc is also unlikely to have mayoral candidates in other cities and towns that will also elect their chief executives in September. The HAK plans to only compete for seats on local councils, he said.
The September 9 vote in Gyumri is expected to mark the end of the 13-year rule of the city’s controversial Mayor Vartan Ghukasian. The latter lost the crucial backing of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) after parliamentary elections held in May.
Galust Sahakian, an HHK deputy chairman, reaffirmed on Tuesday the party’s decision to endorse a mayoral candidate nominated by its former coalition partner, the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK). The candidate, Samvel Balasanian, is a businessman based in Gyumri. He was a deputy speaker of the Armenian parliament until June.
Commenting on the HHK’s choice, Sahakian said that Balasanian is “better appreciated by the people.” “According to our analysis, he has a lot of support in Gyumri,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Sahakian also suggested that the incumbent Gyumri mayor, who is affiliated with the HHK, will not break party ranks and run for reelection. “I don’t think that Vartan Ghukasian will run,” he said. “We haven’t even heard whispers about his self-nomination.”
Naira Zohrabian, a senior BHK representative, declined to comment on the HHK backing for Balasanian. She denied any secret deals cut between Armenia’s two leading parliamentary forces.
The HHK’s decision to endorse Balasanian came as a surprise given the BHK’s de facto opposition to President Serzh Sarkisian’s administrations. Relations between the two parties have been strained since last autumn, with the opposition HAK looking to capitalize on the rift. The HAK’s Zurabian said last month that the bloc led by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian is ready in principle to back some BHK candidates in the upcoming local elections.
Zurabian made clear on Tuesday that the HAK will not throw its weight behind Balasanian. “We cannot support a candidate backed by the ruling regime,” he explained.