The mayoral election campaign in Yerevan officially drew to a close on Friday, with the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) and its opposition challengers making the last pitch for votes in various parts of the capital.
Incumbent Mayor Taron Markarian, who tops the HHK’s electoral list, sounded optimistic about its chances of retaining a majority in Yerevan’s municipal council to be elected on Sunday. “I consider our chances very high,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) while campaigning in neighborhoods in the city center.
“Our new programs are not promises,” Markarian said in a speech delivered in one of those neighborhoods. “They are the continuation of the programs with which Yerevan residents entrusted us four years ago.”
“True, thousands of problems remain but they could not have been solved in four years because they have been accumulated over twenty years,” he said.
Confronted by journalists, the 35-year-old mayor again refused to comment on opposition questions regarding the origin of his substantial fortune which he declared to the Central Election Commission (CEC) in accordance with Armenian law. “Dear journalists, please let me communicate with residents,” he said. “I am campaigning.”
Markarian’s income and asset declaration lists major cash savings, several dozen retail kiosks, seven buildings and other structures as well as three pieces of real estate. The opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) says his assets are worth at least $6 million.
In a letter to state prosecutors sent earlier this week, the HAK demanded a criminal investigation into the legality of Markarian’s enrichment. The opposition party said his failure to specify sources of wealth gives it reason to suspect him of corruption. The ruling HHK has dismissed this attack as a publicity stunt.
Vahagn Khachatrian, the HAK’s top candidate in the May 5 elections, insisted on Friday that most Armenians are sick and tired of the current government. “This is a reality which the authorities are also aware of,” he said, answering Facebook users’ questions at the RFE/RL studio in Yerevan. “The people don’t want to see these authorities. They don’t want to see the faces of those people.”
The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), another major opposition contender, also scoffed at the HHK’s election-related confidence as it ended its campaign with a rally in downtown Yerevan. “If they are so confident why have they again mobilized their neighborhood thugs? Why are they handing out cash?” said Arsen Hambardzumian, a senior party member.
Armen Rustamian, Dashnaktsutyun’s mayoral candidate, again asserted that Sunday’s polls have a nationwide significance because an opposition victory in them would eventually lead to a “regime change without upheavals.” “If we return power to the people in Yerevan, we will be able to do the same in the rest of Armenia,” he said.