Officials in the southern Armenian town of Armavir began on Tuesday recounting ballots cast in a weekend mayoral election that was marred by fraud allegations and sparked violent clashes between police and supporters of the main defeated candidate.
Official vote results showed Armavir’s incumbent Mayor Ruben Khlghatian affiliated with President Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) narrowly winning reelection.
His main challenger, Sevak Minasian, refused to concede defeat and said the election was blatantly rigged in Khlghatian’s favor. Minasian, whose father is the town’s deputy prosecutor, has no party affiliation.
Hundreds of his supporters blocked the Armavir-Yerevan highway on Monday to condemn the alleged fraud and demand a rerun of the ballot. Police used force to disperse the crowd. Five protesters were detained on the spot.
The police also arrested a member of Minasian’s campaign team on suspicion of kidnapping another man. The Minasian campaign insisted that the man was only forcibly brought to one of its offices after he was caught red-handed while handing out voter bribes.
Representatives of the defeated candidate claimed that vote buying was widespread. They said scores of bribed residents of nearby villages were registered as Armavir voters last week and bused to polling stations on election day.
Gohar Avetisian, a pro-Minasian member of a local precinct commission, said as many 15 people were registered as residents of one Armavir apartment. “How could 15 people live in the same place?” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
“This was not an election, this was a sham,” claimed another Minasian campaigner.
However, both the incumbent mayor and the local electoral authority denied any falsifications. “I believe that there has never such a clean and transparent election in Armenia before,” Samvel Avagian, Khlghatian’s campaign manager, assured RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
“No violations whatsoever were registered,” said Gayane Sukiasian, the chairwoman of the election commission that conducted the vote.
Nonetheless, the commission decided to recount ballots. The results of the recount are due to be announced later this week.
Meanwhile, the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) on Tuesday endorsed the fraud allegations and condemned the use of force against Minasian supporters. In a statement, the HAK said the Armavir scandal demonstrated that the Sarkisian government is unwilling and unable to ever hold a democratic election.