Gagik Tsarukian’s Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) accused the authorities of foul play on Monday after its candidate was narrowly defeated in a weekend mayoral election held in the southern town of Ararat.
Official vote results showed Hayk Haykian, the candidate of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), winning the election with just under 51 percent of the vote. His main challenger, the BHK’s Samvel Barseghian, came in second with 47.2 percent, according to the Central Election Commission (CEC).
BHK spokesman Tigran Urikhanian claimed that the election outcome was decided by what he called the HHK’s unprecedented use of government resources. “The authorities concentrated all possible and impossible resources on a scale that was not seen even during the last parliamentary and presidential elections,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Still, Tsarukian, whose party was part of Armenia’s government coalition until May 2012, stopped short of explicitly alleging vote rigging. In a written statement issued on Monday, he only praised and thanked the local BHK chapter for the election performance achieved in “such difficult conditions.”
“It is impossible to achieve success without a fight,” said the statement. “There is no fight without difficulties and obstacles.”
The ruling HHK, for its part, described the Ararat vote as free and fair and urged Tsarukian’s party to congratulate its official winner. Its spokesman, Eduard Sharmazanov, denied any foul play on the part of the authorities.
The local election commission reported no formal complaints from the BHK campaign as of Monday evening. Urikhanian implied that his party, which has the second largest faction in the Armenian parliament, does not trust the HHK-controlled commission.
The Ararat election saw an unusually high voter turnout, with voters queuing up outside virtually all of the seven town precincts. According to the CEC, over two-thirds of the town’s 13,200 eligible voters cast their ballots. Some local residents claimed to have seen unfamiliar names on their neighborhood voter lists.
The vote was also marked by an unusually strong police presence in and outside the polling stations. The head of the BHK’s Ararat branch, Manuk Arakelian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that about dozen BHK activists and proxies were taken to the local police headquarters for questioning shortly after the start of voting on Sunday morning. He claimed that the authorities are thus trying to intimidate his party.
The Ararat ballot was the first major showdown between Armenia’s two largest parliamentary parties since Tsarukian’s unexpected decision last December not to run in the February 2013 presidential election. The BHK leader had been widely expected to challenge President Serzh Sarkisian since pulling his party out of the ruling coalition last year.
Tsarukian, who is one of the country’s richest men and reputedly close to former President Robert Kocharian, declared in May 2013 that his party is not in opposition to Sarkisian despite regularly criticizing the Armenian government’s economic policies.