Police in Yerevan on Sunday forcibly removed Zaruhi Postanjian, an opposition mayoral candidate, from a campaign office of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) which she accused of bribing voters.
Postanjian, who was accompanied by her teenage daughter, entered the office located in the city’s northern Avan district during voting in municipal elections. She tried to get hold of what she described as lists of local resident who were paid by the HHK to vote for Yerevan’s incumbent Mayor Taron Markarian.
HHK activists working there rejected the demands during an ensuing altercation. They and Postanjian accused each other of violent conduct when they continued to bitterly argue in front of journalists.
“Nobody has the right to enter our office without permission,” shouted a middle-aged man managing the office.
The head of the HHK chapter in Avan, who also arrived at the scene, likewise argued that under Armenian law citizens not affiliated with a particular party are not free to enter its premises. He denied buying votes, while admitting that HHK offices in the district keep “lists of our voters.”
“Evidence of election fraud is kept in those drawers,” Postanjian told policer officers called up by the HHK activists. She demanded that they confiscate and examine the documents in her presence.
A police colonel said he will do that after all unauthorized persons leave the office. A furious Postanjian refused to leave it before being dragged away by other officers. They seemed intent on detaining her but changed their mind at the last minute.
Postanjian’s daughter, Lilit Drampian, was apparently driven away from the scene. The police insisted afterwards that she was not detained, however. Drampian suffered a concussion and was taken to a hospital, according to her mother.
Postanjian, who is one of the two opposition candidates running for the post of Yerevan mayor, defended her actions and condemned the police at a news conference held later in the day. She argued that vote buying is illegal in Armenia.
In a written statement, the Armenian police said the use of force was justified because Postanjian defied the law-enforcement officers’ orders. The statement also said that she broke into the HHK office and tried to search it in breach of Armenia’s laws.
Still, a separate statement by the Office of the Prosecutor-General said that the police will investigate Postanjian’s allegations. It also said that it will assign another law-enforcement body, the Special Investigative Service, to deal with the Avan incident.
Tigran Mukuchian, the pro-government chairman of Armenia’s Central Election Commission (CEC), denounced Postanjian’s actions. “It is unacceptable when someone enters a campaign office and tries to paralyze its work,” he told reporters.
Postanjian’s Yerkir Tsirani party and the Yelk alliance, the other opposition contender in Yerevan’s mayoral race, have repeatedly accused the CEC of turning a blind eye to systematic vote buying by the HHK. Yelk went as far as to demand on Friday that President Serzh Sarkisian’s party be disqualified from the race. The CEC rejected the demand.