A prominent opposition figure who spent more than three years in prison on controversial charges has decided to contest a mayoral election that will be held in the central Armenian town of Hrazdan on February 12.
Sasun Mikaelian of the main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) will be the only challenger of Hrazdan’s incumbent Mayor Aram Danielian representing President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK).
The contest will be a major test for both political forces ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for May.
A famous veteran of the Nagorno-Karabakh war, Mikaelian served as Hrazdan mayor in the 1990s before being elected to the Armenian parliament from a local constituency. He was stripped of his parliament seat in 2009 after being sentenced to eight years in prison on charges of organizing the March 2008 post-election violence in Yerevan.
Mikaelian was among more than a hundred supporters of HAK leader Levon Ter-Petrosian arrested in the wake of the deadly unrest on what they consider trumped-up and politically motivated charges. Along with several other Ter-Petrosian loyalists remaining in jail, he was set free last May following a general amnesty declared by the Armenian authorities.
The ruling HHK pledged on Tuesday to do its best to ensure that the Hrazdan election is free and fair. “For us the top priority is not to win the elections at any cost but to ensure their transparency and legitimacy,” the party’s chief spokesman, Eduard Sharmazanov, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “We will do everything to ensure a fair contest.”
“Everything will be done to make the upcoming elections of the Hrazdan mayor fair and transparent,” said Kovalenko Shahgaldian, the HHK-affiliated governor of the Kotayk province, of which Hrazdan is the capital.
Mikaelian dismissed these pledges as he spoke to RFE/RL’s Armenian service in the industrial town about 45 kilometers north of Yerevan. He claimed that the regional administration is already pressuring local government officials and public-sector employees to contribute to Mayor Danielian’s reelection.
“If they try to stuff ballots, organize open voting, ‘carousel’ [voting] and other violations … there will be very severe consequences,” warned Mikaelian. “I have entered the fray for fair elections.”
Shahgaldian insisted that the HHK will not use its government levers or buy votes to win the election. The governor said Danielian will only “help local residents in need.” He did not elaborate on that assistance.