By Astghik Bedevian
Armenia’s ruling coalition has officially confirmed its intention to hold the first-ever indirect election of Yerevan’s mayor, controversially delayed by the government, by the end of next year.
Unlike all other local communities, Yerevan has no municipal assembly and is governed by an official appointed by the president of the republic. Its one million or so residents have only been able to elect the chief executives of the city’s ten administrative districts along with their “councils of elders.”
Under one of the amendments to Armenia’s constitution enacted in November 2005, future Yerevan mayors will be chosen by a municipal council elected by universal suffrage. The elections were due to be held shortly after the passage of a separate law regulating new system of municipal governance, which the authorities had to ensure by December 2007. However, the government only recently submitted a relevant bill to parliament.
The draft law, debated by the National Assembly on Thursday, stipulates that the municipal polls will take places no later than December 6, 2009. They would be held only under the system of proportional representation. Political parties and blocs seeking seats in the municipal assembly would need to win at least 7 percent and 9 percent of the vote respectively.
A party or alliance garnering at least 40 percent of the vote would automatically have another 10 percent added to its tally as a “bonus” and thus be able to single-handedly appoint the city mayor.
The four Armenian parties represented in the government and controlling the vast majority of parliament seats, endorsed the bill, making its passage a forgone conclusion. David Harutiunian, chairman of the parliament committee on legal affairs, described it as “revolutionary.”
But opposition lawmakers rejected the bill. They were particularly unhappy with the unprecedented electoral “bonus” which they believe is aimed at making it easier for President Serzh Sarkisian to install a mayor loyal to him.
“No party can get 40 percent of the vote in Yerevan in a free and fair election,” said Stepan Safarian of the Zharangutyun (Heritage) party. “The 40 percent threshold can be ensured only with administrative levers, vote bribes and a little [criminal] authority.”
Safarian said Zharangutyun is against the bill also because it stands for direct mayoral elections in the Armenian capital where the opposition has traditionally done much better than in the rest of the country. He claimed that the Sarkisian administration’s refusal to hold such elections exposes its lingering “fear” of the opposition.