The three main opposition contenders of the weekend municipal election in Gyumri on Thursday warned the Armenian authorities against declaring a pro-government bloc its outright winner.
The Prosperous Armenia (BHK), Armenian Renaissance and GALA parties said the bloc headed by Samvel Balasanian, Gyumri incumbent mayor, did not win enough votes to gain the majority of seats in the municipal council. The council has the exclusive power to decide who will govern Armenia’s second largest city for the next four years.
According to official results of the election held on a party-list basis, Balasanian’s bloc garnered about 35 percent of the vote, followed by the BHK (21.6 percent), Armenian Renaissance Party (10.6 percent) and GALA (10.5 percent). Several other opposition parties failed to pass the 6 percent vote threshold for being represented in the Gyumri legislature.
Tigran Mukuchian, the pro-government chairman of the Central Election Commission (CEC), said earlier this week that the bloc backed by the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) will control 17 of the 33 council seats and thus be able to re-appoint Balasanian as Gyumri mayor.
In a joint statement, the BHK, Armenian Renaissance and GALA rejected that calculation, saying that in fact Balasanian and his allies won only 15 seats. They said the 18 other seats should be given to them.
The three opposition parties threatened to boycott the work of the new Gyumri council if the CEC formally decides to back Mukuchian’s tally. They said they would also challenge such a decision in court.
“We will not concede any [council] mandates,” Armenian Renaissance’s Hovannes Markarian said as the three parties jointly rallied supporters in Gyumri.
Another Armenian Renaissance leader, Heghine Bisharian, lambasted Mukuchian in Yerevan on Thursday at the end of an Armenian parliamentary debate on the CEC’s composition.
Armenia’s recently amended constitution empowers the National Assembly to elect the CEC’s chairman for a six-year term. The parliament’s pro-government majority voted for Mukuchian despite strong criticism of his track record voiced by opposition lawmakers.
“Tigran Mukuchian has long had the infamous title of chief [election] result painter,” charged Levon Zurabian of the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK). He said that Mukuchian and other members of the CEC have for years engaged in a “cover-up of electoral fraud.”
Zurabian pointed to the CEC’s handling of the 2012 parliamentary elections, the 2013 presidential ballot and a constitutional referendum held last December. All of those votes were marred by serious irregularities reported by election observers, media and opposition groups.
Pro-government deputies defended the CEC members. “They have been targets of criticism, often times deservedly,” said Armen Rustamian of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation. “But these seven persons are most well-informed about the ongoing process of reform of our electoral system.”