Raffi Hovannisian’s Zharangutyun (Heritage) party has teamed up with five other, smaller opposition groups to participate in the upcoming municipal elections in Yerevan, it was announced on Thursday.
The new opposition alliance named Barev Yerevan (Hello Yerevan) is among seven parties and blocs that have filed for registration with the Central Election Commission (CEC) for the vote slated for May 5. They include the ruling Republican Party (HHK), the opposition-leaning Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) and two major opposition forces, the Armenian National Congress (HAK) and Dashnaktsutyun.
The CEC is expected to approve their inclusion on the ballot by March 31. Campaigning for the elections will officially start on April 7.
Residents of the Armenian capital will be electing on May 5 a new municipal assembly that will in turn appoint the city’s mayor. The outgoing Council of Elders is controlled by the HHK. Incumbent Mayor Taron Markarian tops the ruling party’s list of 195 candidates submitted to the CEC.
Hovannisian and his party decided to join the mayoral race while continuing to challenge the official results of the February 18 presidential election that gave victory to President Serzh Sarkisian. “Participation in the mayoral elections will not replace our national rebirth. It will be merely one of the fronts for continuing that struggle. We are going to fight on all fronts,” the Zharangutyun leader told a news conference on the 11th day of his hunger strike in Yerevan’s Liberty Square.
Barev Yerevan’s electoral list is headed by Armen Martirosian, a deputy chairman of Zharangutyun. The bloc comprises three small parties that until recently were aligned in the HAK alliance of former President Levon Ter-Petrosian. The latter is currently turning the HAK into a single political party.
The HAK proposed earlier this month that Armenia’s leading opposition forces form a broad-based alliance for the Yerevan polls. Its subsequent talks with potential opposition allies did not yield an agreement, however. Still, it hopes that the HAK, the BHK, Dashnaktsutyun and Zharangutyun will work together in trying to strip the ruling party of its control over the Yerevan municipality.
BHK spokesman Tigran Urikhanian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that his party is ready to cooperate with the opposition in trying to prevent possible vote rigging. Urikhanian said the BHK is ready to form a multi-party campaign headquarters for that purpose.
Hovannes Sahakian, a senior HHK lawmaker, said opposition cooperation must not be based on the assumption that the party led by President Sarkisian will be seeking to rig the vote. Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service, Sahakian also expressed confidence that the HHK will retain its majority in the Yerevan council.
Sarkisian said earlier this week that the upcoming elections will be even more democratic than the February 18 presidential ballot. But he said this will not prevent the opposition from alleging fraud.