Yerevan Mayor Taron Markarian received strong praise President Serzh Sarkisian on Tuesday as he was inaugurated for a four-year term more than one month after the ruling Republican Party’s victory in disputed municipal elections.
Markarian, 35, took the oath of office at a ceremony, attended by Sarkisian and other top state officials, in accordance with the official results of the May 5 elections rejected as fraudulent by the Armenian opposition.
The Republican Party (HHK) won 42 of the 65 seats in the municipal assembly, more than enough to re-install the HHK-affiliated incumbent. The Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), a former member of Armenia’s governing coalition, came in second, getting 17 seats. The remaining 6 seats went to the Barev Yerevan (Hello Yerevan) opposition bloc of Raffi Hovannisian, Sarkisian’s main challenger in the February 2013 presidential election.
Like other opposition groups, Barev Yerevan refused to accept the legitimacy of the HHK’s landslide victory. Accordingly, its six councilors boycotted the inauguration. By contrast, their BHK colleagues were present at the ceremony, highlighting the ambiguous status of the party led by businessman Gagik Tsarukian.
Speaking at the ceremony, Sarkisian insisted that his party won a popular mandate to govern Yerevan for four more years. “I want to thank all Yerevan residents for trusting Taron Markarian and the list [of candidates] headed by him,” he said. “They trusted because in the past two years Taron Markarian distinguished himself as a modest, honest, and friendly mayor who is concerned with Yerevan’s problems.”
Sarkisian also praised the mayor’s track record. “Kudos to Yerevan’s mayor and Council of Elders that have managed, thanks to hard work, to again earn the trust of Yerevan residents,” he said.
Markarian, whose later father Andranik was Armenia’s prime minister from 2000-2007, took over as mayor in late 2011 following the surprise resignation of his HHK-backed predecessor, Karen Karapetian. He previously served as deputy mayor of the capital.
During the mayoral race Markarian faced harsh criticism from the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), which demanded a criminal investigation into the origin of his business assets and properties declared to the Central Election Commission (CEC). The HAK claimed that they are worth at least $6 million. The opposition party said Markarian’s failure to specify sources of his wealth gives it reason to suspect him of corruption.
The ruling HHK dismissed the allegations as a publicity stunt. Markarian likewise denied them, while failing to clarify how he made a fortune while in office.
Markarian remained evasive on the subject as he talked to journalists after his inauguration. “I have already answered this question in the media,” he said.