By Ruben Meloyan
The governing Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) easily retained its control over four administrative districts of Yerevan in Sunday’s local elections boycotted by the opposition.
HHK candidates ran unopposed in three of those districts, reflecting the opposition’s continuing lack of interest in local government bodies and confidence in the freedom and fairness of electoral processes.
The highest voter turnout, 54 percent, was registered by in Yerevan’s northern Avan district. According to the local election commission, Avan’s incumbent mayor, Taron Markarian, won a second three-year term in office with more than 95 percent of the vote. Markarian, 30, is a son of Armenia’s late Prime Minister Andranik Markarian.
Another young HHK candidate, Artur Gevorgian, became the mayor of the western Davitashen district in similar circumstances. The 33-year-old is better known as a nephew of Ruben Gevorgian, a former parliament deputy and Davitashen mayor. The latter is now affiliated with the Prosperous Armenia Party, one of the HHK’s junior partners in the ruling coalition.
Turnout was only 32 percent in another city district, Malatia-Sebastia. Its new mayor, Armen Ohanian, is thought to be a protégé of Samvel Aleksanian, a wealthy businessman and parliament deputy who holds sway in the area.
The election was hardly more competitive in Nork-Marash, the smallest of Yerevan’s ten districts, where three candidates were in the running. Varazdat Mkrtchian, the incumbent head of the local administration also representing the HHK, was reelected with more than 90 percent of the vote, according to official results. His two challengers are not affiliated with any party.
The elections went ahead despite the Armenian government’s pledges to push through parliament a law that would turn Yerevan into a single community with an indirectly elected mayor empowered to appoint all district chiefs. The promised change stems from one of the amendments to Armenia’s constitution controversially enacted in November 2005. The mayors of the Armenian capital, home to at least one third of the country’s population, have until now been appointed by the president of republic.
Under a draft law approved by the government late last year, Yerevan mayors will be chosen by a municipal assembly to be elected by universal suffrage and on the party list basis. It also envisages the dissolution of the elected district administrations.
The National Assembly was expected to debate and pass the bill early this year. However, the bill has still not been included on the parliament agenda for reasons that remain unclear. Opposition leaders claim that the authorities are deliberately and illegally delaying its passage for fear of holding a municipal election and running the risk of losing control of the capital where the Armenian opposition has traditionally done well.
“When the law [on Yerevan] is passed we will definitely take part in the municipal elections,” Arman Musinian, a spokesman for opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian, said on Monday. He said the Ter-Petrosian-led opposition boycotted the weekend district polls because they are “unconstitutional.”