Vartan Ghukasian, the controversial mayor of Gyumri, dismissed on Wednesday media reports that he will be forced to resign soon because of the ruling Republican Party’s electoral defeat in Armenia’s second largest city.
Official results of the May 6 parliamentary elections showed the Republican Party (HHK) trailing its junior coalition partner, the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), in all three electoral districts covering Gyumri.
Several Armenian media outlets have reported in recent days that the HHK leadership in Yerevan holds Ghukasian responsible for the fiasco and will try to replace him. The pro-opposition daily “Haykakan Zhamanak” suggested on Wednesday that he may not even be allowed to complete his fourth term which expires this fall.
Ghukasian shrugged off those reports as baseless and “absurd” in an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “These are just comments by those who sponsor some media outlets, people who spread gossips and stir up this country,” he said, accusing them of having “bloody hands” and “worshipping the Devil.”
“In general, I do not even respond to street talk. And this is not even street talk,” he said.
“Besides, I have never disappointed my people. I have a huge following. If I leave things incomplete and flee, they will say, ‘We elected you. Why did you leave us?’” added the mayor who managed the HHK’s election campaign in Gyumri and the surrounding Shirak province.
Ghukasian, in office since 1999, also made clear that he will seek another four-year term in office in the next mayoral election due in October. “If the people vote for me again, I will definitely continue to serve my people,” he said.
Ghukasian added that he will settle for nothing less than a landslide victory. “If I win by a margin of one, two or three or four thousand votes, I will resign because I don’t see a candidate who has done as much for this city, has invested as much energy as I have,” he said.
The Gyumri mayor has been dogged by controversy throughout his political career. Critics have long accused him of leading a business clan that controls much of the local economy and tolerates no competition. He has also earned notoriety for his flamboyant behavior that has occasionally turned violent.
In April 2007, Ghukasian narrowly survived an apparent assassination attempt when unknown gunmen opened fire on his motorcade outside Yerevan, seriously wounding him and killing three of his bodyguards.