In what appears to be another consolation prize granted to him by the Armenian government, businessman Gagik Tsarukian is likely to retain de facto control over a town near Yerevan that has long been his political and economic stronghold.
Voters in Abovian will go to the polls on June 7 to elect a successor to Karapet Guloyan, the town’s previous mayor and Tsarukian’s son-in-law who was promoted last month to become governor of the surrounding Kotayk province.
The government named Guloyan to run Kotayk almost one month after Tsarukian stepped down as leader of the opposition Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) and retired from active politics under strong pressure from President Serzh Sarkisian.
The BHK, which controls the second largest faction in the Armenian parliament, threatened to depose Sarkisian with street protests as recently as in February. The president responded by ordering tax audits of Tsarukian’s numerous businesses and inquiries into other “crimes” possibly committed by him.
Tsarukian’s ensuing capitulation eliminated a potentially serious threat to Sarkisian’s hold on power. The tycoon reiterated late last month that he will not reconsider his exit and will focus only on business and charitable work instead.
Tsarukian held sway in Abovian even before his son-in-law became its mayor in 2008 at the age of 28. One of his reputed loyalists, Vahagn Gevorgian, is among six candidates now running for the vacant post.
Gevorgian’s candidacy has also been endorsed by the BHK and, more importantly, Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK). Last week the HHK also ordered Artur Harutiunian, an Abovian-based businessman and another mayoral candidate affiliated with the ruling party, to drop out of the race. Harutiunian, who has been at loggerheads with Tsarukian for the past few years, was expelled from the HHK after defying that order.
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) on Tuesday, Harutiunian claimed that his main election rival is Tsarukian, rather than Gevorgian.“Gagik Tsarukian is now acting like an election candidate along with his entire entourage,” he claimed.
A spokeswoman for Tsarukian, Iveta Tonoyan, dismissed that claim, insisting that the tycoon is not involved in the Abovian race in any way. She also denounced Harutiunian for “unduly exploiting Gagik Tsarukian’s name.”
Analysts agreed, however, that Gevorgian’s victory in the June 7 ballot would mean that the town 15 kilometers north of Yerevan will remain under Tsarukian’s control for four more years. One of them, Stepan Safarian, suggested that such an outcome is part of a secret deal cut by Sarkisian and the former BHK leader.