One man was injured and several others reportedly questioned by police late on Thursday in what appears to be a bitter dispute two election candidates of the ruling Republican Party (HHK) of Armenia.
The two members of the outgoing Armenian parliament, Murad Muradian and Arayik Grigorian, are among several candidates fielded by the HHK in a constituency in the southern Ararat province. They were elected to the National Assembly in 2012 from two smaller electoral districts that have been merged into a single one in accordance with Armenia’s new and more complicated electoral system.
Under that system, Armenians will be voting on April 2 for a party or bloc and one of its several individual candidates running for parliament in a dozen nationwide constituencies. In many cases, those contenders will be competing not only with representatives of other parties but also with each other.
The competition promises to be particularly tight within the HHK, which has again nominated many wealthy candidates with de facto fiefdoms in various parts of the country. Both Muradian and Grigorian are such individuals.
Grigorian’s campaign manager, Samvel Hakobian, was reportedly beaten up by a large group of other men in Masis, a small town about 20 kilometers south of Yerevan. Armenian press reports said he was attacked because Grigorian began opening campaign offices in and around Masis, an area which Muradian apparently considers his zone of influence and main source of votes.
Muradian on Friday denied that his man assaulted Hakobian, while acknowledging that several of them were taken to the local police for questioning. “The police will establish everything,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Muradian also complained that Grigorian is breaching election-related “agreements.” “If things continue like this, I too will open offices elsewhere,” he warned, adding that tension in the area is running high.
Grigorian could not be reached for comment. His brother Aramayis, who was recently appointed as governor of Ararat, was also reluctant to comment on the incident.
“Yes, an incident occurred yesterday and law-enforcement bodies are investigating it,” the governor said by phone. “Ask them [for comment.]”
An Armenian police spokesman confirmed that an investigation is underway but refused to give details.
Meanwhile, Gagik Melikian, a senior HHK lawmaker, deplored the “serious incident,” saying that both candidates will be brought to task by the party leadership. “Such phenomena are unacceptable to us,” he said.
“But tempers often fray during election campaigns,” Melikian went on. “It doesn’t matter with which political party parliament deputies or election candidates are affiliated.”
Melikian insisted that the new electoral system is not to blame for the violence. But Armen Rustamian, a leader of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), the HHK’s junior coalition partner, disagreed, calling the so-called “rating system” breeding ground for such disputes.
Rustamian said Dashnaktsutyun acquiesced in its recently introduction only because it was part of a compromise deal with Sarkisian that led to the abolition of the smaller single-seat constituencies where the HHK has traditionally done well.