By Shakeh Avoyan
President Robert Kocharian reaffirmed on Friday his strong opposition to the idea of introducing an elected administration in Yerevan, exposing fears that the Armenian capital might fall under his political opponents’ control.
“Yerevan is home to one third of the republic’s population,” he said. “And if the municipality becomes elected and if there arises a situation where the mayor represents, for example, the opposition, while the president and the government have a different political orientation, there will be great potential for conflict.”
This would create a “very big problem for the country,” Kocharian added during a visit to the administration of the city’s central Kentron district. He defended the existing mechanism for the mayor’s appointment by the president, while advocating a greater role for the country’s local governments. He complained that the central government has to deal with issues that are their prerogative.
“If there is a public service problem somewhere, people must not think about the president, the prime minister or the government,” Kocharian said. “There can be no stability in such a country.”
According to Armenia’s constitution enacted under former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, Yerevan is the only urban community in the country that has no elected mayor. Analysts believe that Ter-Petrosian feared that an official elected by at least one third of the country’s population could be in a strong position to challenge his rule. Kocharian seems to have the same concerns.
Yerevan’s previous presidentially appointed mayor, Robert Nazarian, said last October that the city affairs can not be managed properly unless the municipality is headed by an elected mayor. He said the existing mayors are weak and powerless.
The lack of good municipal governance has manifested itself through the dramatic spread of cafes and restaurants built Yerevan’s main public parks. The latter have shrunk in size as a result, prompting protests from environmentalists. The process has reportedly been accompanied with illegal practices.
Kocharian said the city authorities should better overseen the construction work and punished those small businesses that destroyed old trees. However, Nazarian effectively admitted that he had often been told to allocate lucrative land to more powerful government officials and could not resist such orders.