By Astghik Bedevian
Opposition leader Raffi Hovannisian said on Monday that we will contest a repeat parliamentary election in a constituency in central Armenia despite having already been elected to the National Assembly.
It is the first time that a sitting member of the Armenian parliament elected on the party list basis is seeking another seat in the legislature under the first-past-the-post system. Hovannisian’s unprecedented move does not run counter to the country’s Electoral Code.
Residents of the electoral district No. 15, largely covering the town of Talin and surrounding villages, already went to the polls along with voters in the rest of the country on May 12. Khachik Manukian, a businessman backed by the governing Republican Party (HHK), was declared the winner of the vote amid allegations vote rigging made by his main challenger, Talin Mayor Mnatsakan Mnatsakanian. The latter is backed by the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), a junior partner in the HHK-led governing coalition.
Manukian subsequently relinquished his parliamentary mandate under apparent pressure from the HHK, leading the Central Election Commission (CEC) to schedule a repeat election in that district for August 26. He and Mnatsakanian are among 11 candidates that have filed for registration with the district election commission. One of them, Hovannisian, is already a parliament deputy, having topped the list of his Zharangutyun (Heritage) party’s candidates in the May 12 polls.
Zharangutyun won 7 of the 91 parliament seats contested under the system of proportional representation and failed to prevail in any of the 41 single-seat constituencies. The party accused the authorities of stealing two-thirds of votes cast for it, but chose to accept the mandates allotted to it and not to boycott sessions of the newly elected legislature. Hovannisian’s victory in the Talin constituency would give it an extra parliament seat.
“Zharangutyun has decided to reclaim, step by step, day by day, votes stolen from us,” said Hovannisian. “We will start doing that from the electoral district No. 15. We want citizens living in that district to understand that at stake is also their freedom of choice.”
Mnatsakanian, who claims to be the rightful winner of the May 12 vote in the district, dismissed the explanation. “If I were [Hovannisian,] I wouldn’t run,” he told RFE/RL. “I consider that an unserious move. He is already a deputy.”
Manukian, for his part, refused to comment on the development, saying only that he is determined to win the August election fair and square.
But that will be a difficult task not only because of Hovannisian’s decision to enter the fray. The pool of candidates includes two other, little-known individuals who also go under the name Khachik Manukian, something which is certain to cause confusion among supporters of the HHK candidate.
The two men were clearly told to run for parliament by one of his rivals keen to damages his electoral chances. One of the obscure Manukians is a 75-year-old unemployed man, while the other works as a costume maker in a state theater in Yerevan.