The ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) claimed victory in more local elections that were held across the country and largely ignored by the opposition on Sunday.
Preliminary official results of the polls showed HHK candidates prevailing in around 80 percent of 262 small towns and villages that elected mayors and local councils. In about 60 other, mostly rural communities only council seats were up for grabs.
The party headed by President Serzh Sarkisian did similarly well in elections that were held in more than 370 other local communities on September 9. It controlled most Armenian local governments before those polls.
As was the case on September 9, the HHK was mainly challenged by the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), its former junior partner in the governing coalition. The BHK won in about two dozen communities mostly located in the central Kotayk province, BHK leader Gagik Tsarukian’s stronghold. The ruling HHK fielded no mayoral candidates in most of those communities.
In particular, Karapet Guloyan, Tsarukian’s son-in-law, was reelected mayor of the regional town of Abovian.
Also, a BHK candidate defeated an HHK rival in Yeghegnadzor, the capital of the southeastern Vayots Dzor province. Voting there was marred by a reportedly violent dispute at a polling station involving Sergei Bagratian, a former provincial governor affiliated with Tsarukian’s party.
Bagratian was detained by police on Monday. A police spokesman in Yerevan declined to comment on the detention. According to rumors circulating in Yeghegnadzor, he was suspected of assaulting a police officer. BHK spokesman Tigran Urikhanian said the party is closely monitoring developments there and believes that Bagratian is not guilty of any wrongdoing.
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am), Urikhanian also claimed that the weekend elections were flawed in many communities. He said HHK-controlled election commissions often made “arbitrary” decisions while police bullied BHK proxies.
The chief HHK spokesman, deputy parliament speaker Eduard Sharmazanov, denied serious vote irregularities, however. He said the latest electoral success puts the party in a stronger position to win next year’s presidential election. Sarkisian will be seeking a second term in office in that ballot due in February.
“Ahead of the presidential elections, we can once again declare that the Republican Party remains the main and most influential political force in the country,” Sharmazanov told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
But Urikhanian downplayed the political significance of the polls. “These elections must be regarded as rivalry not between parties but between municipal administrators,” he said.
Levon Zurabian, a leader of the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), likewise saw no major implications for the outcome of the unfolding presidential race. “That doesn’t mean anything,” he said of the HHK victory. “In 2008 we were acting in the same conditions of lawlessness and facing local government bodies formed by the same vote rigging machine. But that didn’t prevent us from conducting a strong campaign and, in effect, winning the presidential election.”