The ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) suffered a rare setback when the incumbent mayor of a village affiliated with it was defeated by an independent candidate in a local election held over the weekend.
According to the official vote results announced on Monday, Mkrtich Petrosian, the mayor of Bavra, a village in the northwestern Shirak province bordering Georgia, garnered 127 votes, compared with 176 ballots cast for his sole challenger, Koryun Sumbulian. Voter turnout stood at almost 65 percent.
Sumbulian, who is not affiliated with any party and has already governed Bavra in the past, said he won the election despite his rival’s heavy reliance on administrative resources. He accused the HHK’s provincial branch and local authorities of pressurizing villagers to vote for Petrosian. He claimed that they also advised him against challenging the Bavra mayor.
“It all backfired,” Sumbulian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “That means the people have matured.”
Petrosian strongly denied any foul play. “If the Republican Party had exerted pressure he would not have gotten any votes,” said the defeated candidate.
Sahak Minasian, the head of the HHK’s Shirak chapter, also dismissed the election winner’s claims. He downplayed the political significance of the election outcome, saying that “the partisan factor was secondary” in the Bavra vote.
The HHK is headed by President Serzh Sarkisian, holds the majority of seats in Armenia’s parliament and controls the vast majority of local government bodies across the country. The ruling party is regularly accused by the Armenian opposition as well as independent media of resorting to fraud and voter intimidation to win elections. It insists that its routine election victories are legitimate.
Shirak was the only Armenian region where Sarkisian failed, according to official results, to win the majority of votes in last year’s presidential election. He suffered a crushing defeat in Gyumri, the provincial capital and the country’s second largest city. His main opposition challenger, Raffi Hovannisian, won almost 70 percent of the vote there. The then Shirak governor, Ashot Gizirian, resigned shortly after the presidential ballot.