A candidate of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) won a mayoral election in the central Armenian town of Talin on Sunday amid allegations of foul play made by his two main challengers.
Official election results showed the HHK’s Sarkis Aramian becoming Talin’s new mayor with 40 percent of the vote. Vazgen Khachatrian, a candidate of the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), got 30 percent and finished second. He was followed by Vorosh Khachatrian (28 percent), a renegade HHK hopeful.
The vote was marked by an unusually heavy police presence in the streets of Talin. Police patrols cars were especially visible near the campaign headquarters of Vorosh Khachatrian. Officials there accused the police of bullying their activists by impounding their cars and taking them to the local police station.
“They are spreading fear to keep people from voting,” one campaigner told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “The whole regional police are here right now.”
“One of our guys had his car impounded and was told that police will be visiting his place every 15 minutes to check if he is at home. They said they will open a case against him if he isn’t,” he said.
Khachatrian’s aides also claimed that many of their supporters are unable to vote because other persons have already cast ballots on thief behalf. An RFE/RL correspondent witnessed one such case at a Talin polling station. “Somebody signed and voted in my name,” a confused female voter told her there. “That was probably a mistake.”
The woman refused to identify herself and comment further after an unknown man present at the polling station told her to “stop talking.”
Vorosh Khachatrian’s candidacy was tacitly backed by Mnatsakan Mnatsakanian, Talin’s previous mayor who resigned after being elected to the Armenian parliament on the HHK ticket in May. Mnatsakanian’s wife was sacked as director of the local hospital last week.
Representatives of the BHK’s Vazgen Khachatrian, the election runner-up, also cried foul before the closure of the polls. Naira Zohrabian, a senior BHK lawmaker from Yerevan, cited, among other things, a quick disappearance of ink stamps which election officials put in voters’ passports to prevent multiple voting.
Hovannes Asatrian, the local election commission chairman, acknowledged the problem but blamed it on hot weather. “Ink didn’t work in these weather conditions,” he claimed.
Zohrabian also claimed that a large number of Talin voters are escorted to polling stations by other individuals. “They are absolutely healthy people,” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “When I asked a commission member about that I heard a very original answer. He said that in Talin all people aged above 60 are illiterate. This is ridiculous.”
“Once again they talk about a political will to hold free and fair elections but we see something different,” said the BHK representative. “Of course, there are no longer blatant irregularities of the past: ballot stuffing, carousel voting, and violence in polling stations. But in reality, only methods [of vote manipulation] have changed.”
Both Asatrian and Sarkis Sahakian, the regional governor who stayed at the HHK candidate’s campaign headquarters throughout the voting, denied any wrongdoing, saying that the election was free and fair. “Do not believe in that,” Sahakian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am), referring to the rivals’ allegations.
The HHK faced similar allegations from the BHK, its former partner in the governing coalition in Yerevan, and Armenia’s leading opposition forces after winning, according to official results, parliamentary elections last May.