By Shakeh Avoyan
The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), an influential party represented in the government, suffered a major setback at the weekend when Armenia’s Constitutional Court annulled its victory in a recent parliamentary by-election marred with allegations of vote manipulation.
Dashnaktsutyun’s Hakob Matilian had been declared the winner of the May 16 vote in a single-mandate constituency in the northwestern Shirak province. According to official figures, Matilian beat his main challenger, Vartan Makeyan of the opposition Democratic Fatherland party, with the narrow margin of 1,200 votes.
But in a rare verdict favoring the opposition, the Constitutional Court endorsed Makeyan’s claims about widespread irregularities, ruling that they affected the outcome of the ballot. The court ordered a re-run of the disputed election.
The decision means that Matilian, who has already taken part in sessions of the parliament, will have to surrender his mandate. It reduces to nine the number of deputies representing Dashnaktsutyun.
The court ruling was hailed on Monday by Armen Khojoyan, a member of the Central Election Commission (CEC) affiliated with Makeyan’s small opposition party. “The Constitutional Court has conducted its own inquiry and found that the facts presented by us are true,” he told RFE/RL.
The court endorsed allegations of ballot box stuffing in five local villages. It also pointed to the fact that voter lists in 11 rural precincts were not officially certified by local authorities in violation of Armenian law.
Leaders of Democratic Fatherland, which is strongly opposed to President Robert Kocharian, have accused Dashnaktsutyun of using its government connections to falsify the election. They have claimed that the provincial authorities, including police and other law-enforcement agencies, openly campaigned for Matilian’s election to the parliament.
However, the majority of CEC members had voted to recognize the Dashnak candidate’s electoral victory, dismissing complaints lodged by his rivals. The CEC chairman, Artak Sahradian, sought to justify the decision on Monday, arguing that Armenia’s highest electoral body was unable to conduct its own investigation into the alleged irregularities.
CEC officials also said that the Shirak by-election is likely to be re-run on July 14.