An opposition candidate inched closer on Friday to becoming the mayor of Vanadzor, Armenia’s third largest city, after securing the backing of the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK).
In a local election held on October 2, the BHK and two other opposition parties, Bright Armenia and Armenian Revival, won between them 18 of the 33 seats in the city council that will appoint the mayor.
Bright Armenia will control 10 of those seats, having finished second in the election behind the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK). The HHK will be represented in the municipal council by 15 members.
Armenian Revival said on Thursday that it has decided to back Bright Armenia’s mayoral candidate, Krist Marukian. The BHK followed suit the next day.
Naira Zohrabian, the BHK’s chairwoman, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that the 18 elected councilors representing the three parties will adopt a corresponding declaration in Vanadzor on Saturday.
Edmon Marukian, Bright Armenia’s leader and Krist’s brother, said the latter’s election as Vanadzor mayor is still not a forgone conclusion despite the coalition deal. He claimed that the Armenian authorities will pressure at least some BHK and Armenian Revival councilors to vote for the HHK’s pick of the next Vanadzor mayor in what will be a secret ballot.
“There is and there will be pressure on them,” Marukian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “The question is whether it will work.”
Zohrabian expressed confidence, however, that the three BHK candidates elected to the city council will not bow to the alleged pressure. “I trust our councilors and hope the other councilors who will sign tomorrow a memorandum on the development of Vanadzor will also honor their commitments during the vote,” she said.
Armenian Revival leaders similarly insisted that their five councilors will not break the ranks. “We will vote the way we have said we will,” one of them, Mher Shahgeldian, told a news conference in Yerevan.
All three groups stressed that their power-sharing deal will apply only to Vanadzor and will have no bearing on parliamentary elections due in April 2017.
The HHK, which is headed by President Serzh Sarkisian, has long controlled most central and local government bodies in Armenia. Vanadzor, which is the administrative center of the northern Lori province, looks set to become the first major urban community controlled by the Armenian opposition.
A leader of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), the ruling HHK’s junior coalition partner, on Friday welcomed the looming opposition takeover there. “For the first time, we have an election result allowing non-governmental forces to effect regime change in a particular city,” said Armen Rustamian. “I’m happy with talk of the agreement [between the three parties.]”
But citing the past “bitter experience” in Armenian politics, Rustamian cautioned that it remains to be seen whether Bright Armenia will indeed receive the promised backing of the two other opposition parties.