Citing a culture of electoral fraud, Armenia’s main opposition parties have not fielded or endorsed any candidates in local elections that will be held in two dozen towns and villages next month.
By contrast, the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), is looking to retain its overwhelming control of local communities across the country. Its candidates are vying for virtually all of the mayoral posts and local councils that will be up for grabs on June 7.
In recent years, the HHK’s sole major challenger in local elections was the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) of Gagik Tsarukian, a wealthy businessman. The BHK has stopped, however, posing a serious threat to President Serzh Sarkisian since Tsarukian was forced to step down as party leader and retire from politics in March. It will have no candidates in the upcoming polls.
“Forget about [opposition victory in elections,] that’s impossible,” Levon Zurabian, the parliamentary leader of the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), said on Tuesday. “No opposition party has ever won local elections in Armenia.”
Armen Martirosian, a leader of another opposition party, Zharangutyun (Heritage), likewise claimed that the outcome of such elections is decided by chronic fraud and vote buying. “The key factor is which candidate is supported by the government, benefits from falsifications and vote bribes,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Both Zurabian and Martirosian also argued that Armenian local government bodies lack powers and financial resources. Officials running them are therefore highly dependent on the central government and provincial governors appointed by it, they said.
The HHK has long dismissed such arguments, saying that the opposition has only itself to blame for its poor showing in local polls.