By Shakeh AvoyanA court in Yerevan set an important precedent for Armenia Thursday, declaring an independent candidate the winner of an election in the city’s Kanaker-Zeytun district over the local election commission’s objections.
Preliminary results of the September 18 vote showed the candidate, Ara Kotanjian, leading his main rival, businessman Valeri Harutiunian, by a small margin. Harutiunian refused to concede defeat and managed to get the election commission to scrap the results and call a repeat poll for this Sunday. The commission said “inaccuracies” found during a recount of the ballots were serious enough to affect its results.
But the Kanaker-Zeytun court of first instance, acting on an appeal filed by Kotanjian, disagreed. The presiding judge, Artur Arakelian, handed down the ruling after personally examining some of the contentious ballots marked for Kotanjian. Arakelian ruled that the commission invalidated them deliberately and unjustly.
The verdict was read out to rapturous applause from Kotanjian supporters present in the courtroom. The commission chairman, Ararat Karapetian, looked unhappy but refused to comment on it. Karapetian is affiliated with the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), a governing party which endorsed Harutiunian.
The wealthy candidate, who used to manage Armenia’s main international airport, was accused by his rival of paving streets and handing vote bribes during the election campaign. “I’ve spent $1.2 million. How can I fail to win?” a Kotanjian proxy quoted Harutiunian as saying on voting day.
Harutiunian, however, denies resorting to vote buying.