President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) looked set to win Sunday’s municipal elections in Yerevan by an unexpectedly huge margin that was shown by early official vote results rejected as fraudulent by at least one of its main opposition challengers.
The government-controlled Central Election Commission (CEC) said early on Monday that with ballots counted in almost two-thirds of Yerevan’s 464 electoral precincts the HHK got over 58 percent of the vote, more than enough to reinstall incumbent Republican Mayor Taron Markarian.
The Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) of Gagik Tsarukian came in a distant second with almost 20 percent of the vote, followed by Raffi Hovannisian’s Barev Yerevan blow, which got 8.7 percent, according to the CEC.
None of the two other major opposition groups -- the Armenian National Congress (HAK) and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) -- were on course to clear the 6 percent vote threshold for gaining representation in Yerevan’s municipal council. The CEC figures showed them garnering less than 5 percent of the vote each.
The HAK was quick to cry foul, denouncing the vote as “yet another crime by the ruling regime against democracy and the people of Armenia.” In a statement, the opposition party led by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian said the “disgraceful irregularities” included vote buying, multiple voting, ballot stuffing and intimidation of voters by “HHK thugs.” The HAK also rejected as grossly inflated the official voter turnout of 53.6 percent.
There was no immediate reaction from the other opposition contenders.
Predictably, the ruling party praised the conduct of the polls. “Some will say that the elections did not go well. But contrary to some media skillful at spreading disinformation and alerts from ‘political activists,’ they were better than expected,” one of the HHK’s deputy chairmen, Education Minister Armen Ashotian, wrote on Facebook shortly after the closure of the polls.
“In some cases there were indeed vote irregularities. Relevant bodies are now busy identifying and punishing their perpetrators,” he said.
HHK activists began celebrating their disputed victory immediately after the publication of first official results, setting off fireworks across the Armenian capital.
President Sarkisian won, according to official figures, less than 40 percent of the vote in Yerevan in a presidential election held less than three months ago. His main challenger, Barev Yerevan’s Hovannisian, and other opposition forces alleged widespread serious fraud at the time.