Campaigning officially began on Friday for next month’s municipal elections in Yerevan which will pit the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) against two opposition groups led by relatively young politicians.
The HHK and its main challenger, the opposition Yelk alliance, rallied hundreds of supporters in different parts of the city. The third contender, the newly formed Yerkir Tsirani party, launched its election campaign with a bicycle ride across downtown Yerevan.
Voters in the Armenian capital will go to the polls on May 14 to elect, on a party-list basis, a new municipal council that will in turn pick the city mayor. The HHK leadership has nominated the incumbent Mayor Taron Markarian for reelection. It has expressed confidence that will retain control over the municipal administration.
Markarian, in office since 2011, held his first campaign rally in the city’s southern Erebuni district, declaring that that he has largely delivered on his campaign promises given four years ago. He said Yerevan now has more green areas, well-lit streets and refurbished neighborhood courtyards.
“Today we can say that we have a better Yerevan,” the 38-year-old mayor told several hundred people that gathered in an Erebuni park. “But there are still problems.”
Some local residents voiced grievances, however, when they spoke to him after the rally. One woman complained of a lack of 24-hour water supply in her home.
“Five years ago, only a handful of districts had 24-hour water supplies,” replied Markarian. “Today the households in Yerevan have running water for an average of 17-18 hours a day.” The situation will improve further in the coming years, he added.
Meanwhile, Yelk’s mayoral candidate, Nikol Pashinian lambasted Markarian and the HHK as he addressed supporters in the city center at a rally that followed a rock concert organized by his bloc. He said Yelk’s victory in the municipal polls would create a “real and strong counterweight to Serzh Sarkisian’s government” and eliminate a key pillar of the “corrupt system existing in Armenia.”
Pashinian insisted that Yelk’s ultimate aim is regime change. “We will liberate Armenia from the HHK’s arbitrary, illegitimate and corrupt rule,” he told the mostly young audience.
Yelk, which was set up by three opposition parties in December, finished third in the April 2 parliamentary elections, winning about 8 percent of the votes. Most of them came from Yerevan.
Official vote results gave a landslide victory to the HHK. Opposition and civic groups have attributed the ruling party’s victory to vote buying and abuse of government resources.
Speaking to reporters earlier in the day, Pashinian, 41, indicated that Yelk is ready for post-election cooperation with Yerkir Tsirani. The opposition party was set up in late March and did not run in the parliamentary elections. Its outspoken leader and mayoral candidate, Zaruhi Postanjian, has publicly criticized Yelk.
Postanjian, 45, presented her party’s campaign platform at an improvised news conference held in Yerevan’s Liberty Square. She said that if she and Yerkir Tsirani win the upcoming vote they will primarily combat what she called widespread corruption in the Yerevan municipality.
Accordingly, Postanjian was highly critical of Markarian’s track record. “During his tenure, green areas in the city have shrunk,” she said.
“This is the civilized model,” Postanjian declared before she and dozens of her supporters mounted bicycles and rode them through the city center. “People should be able to get around in Yerevan in bicycles, rather than big cars.”