A court in Yerevan has upheld electoral authorities’ controversial decision to ban Khachatur Sukiasian, a prominent businessman, from running for parliament as a candidate of the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK).
Sukiasian hoped to run in a single-mandate electoral district in central Yerevan that he represented in the National Assembly until September 2009. The district election commission refused to register his candidacy last month on the grounds that he has been absent from Armenia for over ten months since 2008.
Under Armenian law, only those citizens who have “permanently” resided in the country for five years preceding a parliamentary election can aspire to seats in the National Assembly.
Sukiasian’s lawyers argue that their client lived abroad during less than a fifth of the minimum residency period. They challenged the commission’s decision, strongly condemned by the HAK, at Armenia’s Administrative Court later in March.
In a verdict announced late on Wednesday, the court sided with the commission dominated by government loyalists, however.
The panel of five judges is expected to reject on Friday a similar appeal that was lodged by the lawyers against the Central Election Commission’s decision to disqualify Sukiasian from a separate list of election candidates fielded by the HAK. Those candidates will contest the May 6 elections under the system of proportional representation.
“Khachatur Sukiasian’s electoral right has been breached,” Ara Zohrabian, one of his lawyers, said on Thursday. “He was eligible to nominate his candidacy.”
The court ruling was denounced as politically motivated by the tycoon’s younger brother Saribek Sukiasian. He will now run for the parliament in Khachatur’s place. The local election commission has already registered Saribek as a candidate.
Saribek Sukiasian’s main rival in the Electoral District No. 10 is another well-known businessman, Garegin Nushikian. The latter is backed by the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) and has family ties with the influential Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian.
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am), Nushikian confirmed that he expects Hovsepian to help him win a parliament seat. “I can’t speak for him but think that will be the case,” he said.
Khachatur Sukiasian left Armenia in the wake of the March 2008 post-election violence unrest in Yerevan and resulting government crackdown on the opposition. He and several prominent associates of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian went into hiding at the time to avoid arrest.