The ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) on Monday claimed victory in local elections that were held in more than 370 urban and local communities across the country over the weekend.
Citing preliminary results of the elections marked by a lack of opposition interest, the HHK said its candidates prevailed in at least 240 of those communities, including Vanadzor and several other major towns. A candidate endorsed by the HHK won in Armenia’s second city of Gyumri.
“The Republican Party is happy with the results,” a senior party official, Ruben Tadevosian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “Our team has succeeded in achieving our objectives in the regions.”
The party headed by President Serzh Sarkisian already controlled most of the country’s local government bodies. With the main opposition forces showing little interest in the polls, the strongest challenge to its positions in the regions came from the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) of Gagik Tsarukian, a former member of Sarkisian’s governing coalition.
The total number of local communities won by the BHK was not clear as of Monday evening. Official vote results showed BHK candidates failing to beat their rivals in Vanadzor and several other towns.
Naira Zohrabian, a senior BHK representative, blamed those defeats on what she called serious vote irregularities. “Violations that we registered during the May 6 parliamentary elections were repeated in many communities during the local elections,” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
The BHK refused to recognize the legitimacy of the HHK’s landslide victory in the May elections before pulling out of Sarkisian’s coalition government.
Tsarukian’s party suffered its arguably biggest setback in Masis, a small town near Yerevan that has been governed by a BHK affiliated mayor for the past four years. Its deputy mayor, Karen Ohanian, represented the BHK in Sunday’s vote and was defeated by an HHK candidate. Zohrabian said her party will demand ballot recounts in all of the town’s nine electoral precincts.
The BHK did win, at least nominally, the mayoral election in Gyumri. Its candidate, businessman Samvel Balasanian, garnered 65 percent of the vote, according to the local election commission. Balasanian’s main challenger, Hovsep Simonian of the opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), got 24.3 percent.
Simonian refused to concede defeat, however, accusing his rival of resorting to fraud, buying votes and abusing government resources.
Balasanian, who owns of Armenia’s three main beer companies, also enjoyed the ruling HHK’s backing in the race. President Sarkisian confirmed last week reports that he personally told the businessman to run for mayor. This statement raised more questions about Balasanian’s allegiance to the BHK.