Most of Armenia’s leading opposition forces have fielded no candidates for an upcoming parliamentary by-election, highlighting their inability to seriously challenge the ruling Republican Party (HHK) in single-mandate constituencies.
The election will take place on September 29 in one such one constituency covering part of the southeastern Syunik province. The parliament seat became vacant after the Armenian government appointed its previous holder, Vahe Hakobian, as Syunik governor last month.
Hakobian’s notoriously violent predecessor, Suren Khachatrian, was forced to resign in June amid an outcry caused by the deadly gunfight outside his house in Goris, a town in Syunik. Khachatrian’s son Tigran and one of his bodyguards are currently under arrest on murder charges.
Meeting in Yerevan late on Wednesday, the HHK’s governing body nominated Armen Karapetian, a former mayor of the regional capital Kapan, as its election candidate. The move ended speculation that the ruling party could compensate the ex-governor with a parliament mandate.
Karapetian is a senior member of the HHK’s Syunik branch. He served as an adviser to Khachatrian from 2011-2013.
Eduard Sharmazanov, the ruling party’s spokesman, denied that this fact testifies to Khachatrian’s lingering influence in the mountainous region bordering Iran. “Influence is not a political or legal category,” he told reporters.
“I think that political forces have a good opportunity to try their chances in the electoral district No. 38 because elections are the best way of engaging in politics,” Sharmazanov said.
Only one Armenian opposition party, Zharangutyun (Heritage), chose to nominate a candidate for the Syunik by-election. The candidate, Samvel Hayrapetian, heads the Zharangutyun chapter in Kapan.
According to the Central Election Commission, the HHK’s Karapetian will also be challenged by three other, little-known candidates not affiliated with any party.
The HHK has long swept parliamentary elections held under the first-past-the-post system thanks to its vast financial resources and heavy reliance on administrative resources. Only the opposition-leaning Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) of businessman Gagik Tsarukian has been able to mount a serious challenge in some single-seat constituencies.
Another likely reason for the lack of opposition interest is that official results of national elections have shown the HHK winning a substantially higher percentage of votes in Syunik than in any other part of Armenia. Opposition leaders attribute this to what they call an atmosphere of fear created by Khachatrian. The ex-governor and his relatives were linked with violent incidents throughout his long tenure.