Suren Khachatrian, a notorious Armenian governor, pledged on Tuesday to “ensure” in his Syunik province the highest percentage of “Yes” votes for President Serzh Sarkisian’s controversial constitutional changes in next month’s nationwide referendum.
“I think that the highest indicator will be ensured in Syunik,” Khachatrian told reporters in Yerevan. He refused to speculate about concrete percentage figures and claimed that the Armenian government set no “Yes” vote targets for him.
Official results of the disputed presidential and parliamentary elections held in Armenia over the past decade have shown President Serzh Sarkisian and his Republican Party (HHK) winning a higher percentage of votes in Syunik than in any other part of the country. Many believe this is the main reason why Khachatrian has been in office for more than a decade despite a long history of violent conduct by him and his relatives holding sway in the mountainous region bordering Iran.
Asked about the reasons for his political longevity, the Syunik governor said: “I don’t think that the election results matter. I probably manage to solve the province’s problems. That is why I work [as governor.]”
Khachatrian was sacked in 2013 following a shootout outside his villa in the regional town of Goris, which left one man dead and another seriously wounded. His notoriously violent son Tigran was arrested immediately after the incident but set free and cleared of murder charges a few months later. Khachatrian, 59, was reinstated as governor in 2014.
Tigran Khachatrian was again arrested in July after reportedly leading a brutal assault on two Goris men. He spent only two months in custody, with law-enforcement authorities dropping corresponding criminal charges levelled against him. Some critics of the Armenian government linked his release with the upcoming constitutional referendum seen as critical for President Sarkisian’s political future.
Suren Khachatrian, who is commonly known as Liska, insisted that the outcome of the December 6 referendum in Syunik will not be rigged by the regional administration. Accordingly, the governor claimed that the ruling party’s strong electoral performance in Syunik have not been the result of massive vote rigging or an atmosphere of widespread fear stemming from his clan’s abuses.
The governor went on to predict that the HHK, of which he is a senior member, will remain in power for decades to come.“I don’t think that the Republican regime will change in the next 50 years,” he said.