The governing Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) faced more opposition allegations of foul play on Tuesday after controversially installing one of its members as mayor of Vanadzor, the country’s third largest city.
Opposition lawmakers said the HHK made nonsense of its claims that Armenia’s transition to a parliamentary system of government will result in democratic change.
Vanadzor’s newly elected municipal council chose the HHK’s candidate, Mamikon Aslanian, as mayor on Monday despite the fact that the ruling party and its ally, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, control only 15 of its 33 seats.
The 18 other seats were won by the Bright Armenia, Prosperous Armenia (BHK) and Armenian Revival parties that are officially in opposition to the government. They agreed over the weekend to back Bright Armenia’s mayoral candidate, Krist Marukian. Nevertheless, Aslanian received 19 votes cast in secret ballot, suggesting that four opposition councilors secretly broke the ranks.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, Bright Armenia pledged to identify the defectors, while insisting that they were forced to vote for the pro-government candidate. The party also said the HHK demonstrated that it is not serious about its pledges to create a new, more democratic political culture in the country.
Other opposition groups added their voice to these claims. “It is evident that there was pressure on some non-HHK members of the city council,” three lawmakers representing Vartan Oskanian’s Consolidation party said in a joint statement. They said that Sarkisian and his political allies are keen to maintain their grip on power.
Levon Zurabian, the deputy chairman of the Armenian National Congress (HAK), said the Vanadzor scandal is further proof that the controversial constitutional reform enacted by the authorities last year is not aimed at democratization.
“Right from the beginning we were the only party that opposed constitutional changes because we never thought that those constitutional changes are enacted for the sake of democratization or for boosting the role of political parties and the opposition,” Zurabian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Tevan Poghosian, an independent lawmaker, spoke of “the death of the new constitution” envisaging Armenia’s transformation into a parliamentary republic. He said the outcome of the mayoral race in Vanadzor showed that “the HHK does not believe in its own statements.”
“As soon as they realized that there could be political deals that would mark their defeat [in a major community] … they resorted to forcible mechanisms,” said Poghosian.
Armen Ashotian, the HHK’s deputy chairman, rejected the opposition attacks during a live debate with Bright Armenia’s leader, Edmon Marukian, at the RFE/RL studio in Yerevan. Ashotian accused the recently formed opposition party of trying to “distort the electoral process.”
“Unfortunately, this political force that claims to espouse a new political culture is no different from many other opposition parties that have infamously died in the past,” he said.