A 29-year-old son of Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian has become the new mayor of an Armenian town widely regarded as their family’s de facto fiefdom, winning an election in which he was the only candidate.
The weekend vote marked by a low turnout became a mere formality last month after Argam Abrahamian’s two challengers dropped out of the mayoral race. The incumbent mayor of the town located about 30 kilometers south of Yerevan also chose not to run for reelection.
Abrahamian Jr. insisted on Sunday that neither he nor his father forced them not to enter the fray. “We didn’t intervene in any way to make sure that I am left alone in the race,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) shortly after casting his ballot in a local polling station.
“I would have liked to see competition as I have never avoided competition. But I think I’m not to blame for that,” he said outside his campaign headquarters.
Dozens of luxury cars could be seen pulling up to a nearby parking lot throughout the day. They transported groups of mostly young men who continuously entered and exited the building.
“I want to thank you for the trust and assure that I will do everything to live up to your hopes and to avoid disappointing you,” Abrahamian said in a message to Artashat voters posted on Facebook on Monday. “I had no rivals [in the race] but my real rivals are the problems facing Artashat,” he wrote.
Hovik Abrahamian and his extended family have long held sway in Artashat and surrounding villages, controlling much of the local agriculture-based economy and government bodies. The area has been notorious for blatant electoral fraud and violent attacks on opposition activists. Abrahamian Sr. has repeatedly denied opposition allegations that he was behind the violence.
The prime minister stoked opposition and media talk of a “feudal” system taking deeper roots in Armenia when it emerged that his young son is set become Artashat’s mayor.
Incidentally, Argam Abrahamian is married to one of the daughters of Gagik Tsarukian, an influential businessman accused by independent media and opposition and civic activists of acting like a feudal chieftain in another town close to Yerevan, Abovian.
Abovian was until recently run by another son-in-law of Tsarukian, Karapet Guloyan. Guloyan was appointed as governor of the surrounding Kotayk province earlier this year shortly after the tycoon agreed to stop challenging President Serzh Sarkisian.
Not surprisingly, the resulting snap election in Abovian, also held on Sunday, was won by Vahagn Gevorgian, a protégé of Tsarukian. Gevorgian’s candidacy was endorsed by the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK).
An HHK-backed candidate also prevailed in another mayoral election that was held in Alaverdi, an industrial town in the northern Lori province. According to official vote results, Karen Paremuzian, narrowly defeated his main challenger not affiliated with any political party.
None of Armenia’s major opposition parties fielded candidates in Artashat, Abovian or Alaverdi. Their representatives said last month that contesting these and other local polls is meaningless because their outcomes are decided by vote rigging and buying. They also argued that Armenian local government bodies lack powers and financial resources and are therefore heavily dependent on the central government.