By Ruzanna Stepanian
Hakob Hakobian, a controversial lawmaker prosecuted for tax evasion and assault, will not be backed by his governing Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) in the upcoming parliamentary elections, it emerged on Thursday.
The HHK decided late Wednesday to endorse instead a newly retired top army general who will be running for parliament in Hakobian’s single-mandate constituency covering the southern town of Echmiadzin and surrounding villages. The move set the stage for one of the most intriguing and potentially tense individual election races.
Major-General Seyran Saroyan was relieved of his duties as commander of Armenia’s Fourth Army Corps last month to be able to participate in the May 12 polls. Media reports said the HHK leadership wants Saroyan to unseat Hakobian as it considers the latter a political liability. Both men have extensive business interests in the area south of Yerevan.
Hakobian, who joined the HHK last year, was charged with “hooliganism,” tax evasion and other financial irregularities in October immediately after fellow lawmakers agreed to lift his legal immunity from prosecution. The charges stem from a mass brawl at a gas distribution facility near Yerevan that was allegedly provoked by the wealthy parliamentarian. State prosecutors completed a criminal investigation into the incident in January and were due to forward the case to the court shortly.
Hakobian, better known as “Choyt,” said the decision not to back his reelection bid was made by “one or two” top Republicans, rather than the party’s governing board. “My friends tell me that such an issue was not even discussed by the board last night,” he told RFE/RL. “I don’t know why they decided so.”
Asked how he plans to compete with the feared general, the 43-year-old said, “I’m not going to compete. I’m just going to present my programs to the people and the people will decide whom to vote for.”
Hakobian also insisted that he will not drop out of the race. “Do I look like a man who would quit mid-way through the race?” he said.