A candidate of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) swept to a landslide victory in a weekend parliamentary by-election amid allegations of fraud and vote buying made by his opposition challenger.
Preliminary official results showed the HHK’s Armen Karapetian winning 85 percent of the vote in a single-mandate constituency in the southeastern Syunik province.
The election was marked by a low voter turnout. Less than half of the eligible voters living in the area bordering Iran cast ballots as of 6 p.m., two hours before the closure of the polls on Sunday. “People are probably sick and tired or distrustful of elections,” a member of a local election commission told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Samvel Hayrapetian, the main opposition candidate representing Raffi Hovannisian’s Zharangutyun (Heritage) party, refused to concede defeat, alleging serious irregularities, notably vote buying. He claimed that scores of local residents were paid 5,000 drams ($12) to vote for the government-backed candidate.
The Zharangutyun leadership in Yerevan likewise denounced the election as “not free and fair” in a statement issued on Monday. It said in particular that serious violations during the election campaign and on voting day prevented thousands of local residents from going to the polls.
Karapetian, the official election winner, laughed off these allegations. Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am), he said Zharangutyun is trying to justify its defeat with “slander.”
The by-election was called after the previous holder of the local parliament seat, Vahe Hakobian, was appointed as Syunik governor in July. Hakobian’s father Maksim is the chief executive and a major shareholder of Armenia’s largest mining company located near the local town of Kajaran. Thousands of people work there.
The Hakobians hold sway in that part of Syunik, regularly ensuring strong election showings for President Serzh Sarkisian and his HHK. This explains why Karapetian got as much as 95 percent of the vote in Kajaran.
The election outcome also highlighted the Armenian opposition’s inability to seriously challenge the ruling party in single-seat constituencies. The HHK has long swept parliamentary elections held under the first-past-the-post system thanks to its vast financial resources and heavy reliance on administrative resources. No opposition party except Zharangutyun fielded a candidate in the latest vote.