The pro-government mayor of the central town of Hrazdan narrowly defeated on Sunday his challenger representing the main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) in a closely watched local election, according to its preliminary official results.
The Central Election Commission (CEC) said the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) also won in local elections held in 30 other towns and villages across the country. Pro-government candidates not affiliated with the HHK swept seven other communities that also elected local self-government bodies on Sunday.
Hrazdan, which is located more than 40 kilometers north of Yerevan, was the only community with an opposition candidate in the running: the HAK’s Sasun Mikaelian. The local election commission dominated by government loyalists said Aram Danielian, the incumbent mayor affiliated with the HHK, got 51.6 percent of almost 25,390 votes that were cast there, enough to win another term in office.
Mikaelian refused to concede defeat, accusing Danielian and the local authorities of large-scale vote buying. Mikaelian’s election campaign manager, Hakob Avagumian, also rejected the official results. He claimed that the authorities not only handed out vote bribes but also inflated the voter turnout which the election commission put at 58 percent.
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am), Avagumian said the Mikaelian campaign will not challenge the results at the CEC or in court. He said that would be “meaningless” considering the nature of the alleged irregularities.
Danielian dismissed the fraud allegations as “slander.” He insisted that the vote was free and fair.
Sunday’s voting was generally peaceful and observers present at some polling stations reported no instances of ballot stuffing or other serious violations. Electricity supply to three precincts was cut for unknown reasons shortly after the start of ballot counting. Precinct officials said the power outage did not affect the integrity of the process.
Also, the Armenian police reported two election-related “incidents” in Hrazdan on polling day. “An investigation is underway,” a police statement said without elaborating.
State prosecutors, for their part, said they are investigating an Internet video that shows a middle-aged Hrazdan woman telling election officials and a Mikaelian proxy that her some of her neighbors received 5,000 drams ($13) in cash to vote for the incumbent. A spokesman for the Office of the Prosecutor-General, Sona Truzian, also told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that criminal proceedings have been launched against a local man who tried to cast a ballot in place of another voter.
Tigran Mukuchian, the CEC chairman, described the elections in Hrazdan and the other communities as a “substantial step forward” in the Armenian authorities’ stated efforts to do away with the country’s political culture of electoral fraud. “The elections were held in accordance with the letter and spirit of the Electoral Code,” Mukuchian told a news conference.
“There were no serious violations,” agreed Razmik Zohrabian, a deputy chairman of the ruling HHK. Zohrabian said the local polls demonstrated the seriousness of the authorities’ pledges to ensure that the May parliamentary elections are free and fair.
The HAK leadership claimed the opposite later in the day in a statement that denounced the “stolen election” in Hrazdan. “The authorities have once again demonstrated that they are not ready to honor even provisions of the flawed Electoral Code enacted by themselves whenever there is a real danger to the reproduction of their regime,” charged the opposition bloc.
The HAK at the same time sought to put a brave face on its defeat in Hrazdan, saying that Mikaelian managed to garner 46 percent of the vote despite “such widespread fraud.”