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Opposition Alliance Avoids Challenging Ruling Party Over Vote Buying Allegations


Armenia - Nikol Pashinian, an opposition mayoral candidate, speaks to reporters outside a polling station in Yerevan, 14May2017.

Despite making allegations of large-scale vote buying in favor of the incumbent mayor before and during last Sunday’s municipal elections in Yerevan, an opposition alliance led by outspoken government critic Nikol Pashinian has refused to engage in a post-election challenge of the outcome of the polls that gave a landslide victory to Taron Markarian and the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) he represents.

In contrast to the HHK that polled over 71 percent of the vote, the Yelk (Way Out) alliance managed to gain the support of 21 percent of voters, finishing a distant second in the elections also marred by reported violence against some opposition members and media.

Another opposition party, Yerkir Tsirani, led by Zaruhi Postanjian, got almost 8 percent in the elections and also made it to Yerevan’s 65-seat Council of Elders.

Yelk and most other opposition parties and alliances also avoided challenging the HHK, weather legally or by staging street protests, after the April 2 parliamentary elections that were also marred by allegations of large-scale vote buying and also gave a convincing victory to the ruling party of President Serzh Sarkisian.

The legal claim launched then by the Congress-HZhK alliance led by ex-president Levon Ter-Petrosian was rejected by the Constitutional Court as unsubstantiated.

“If we start a post-election process, will those people who accepted money for their votes or did not go to the polls at all come to Liberty Square?” Yelk’s Pashinian, who ran for the mayor’s office in the Sunday vote, said at a press conference on Monday.

“If people wanted a post-election process, they should have come and voted [for us] and that would rather have been an election process in which people would have got the changes they had wanted,” the oppositionist added.

Pashinian went as far as to assert that the current reality in Armenia is that “hundreds of thousands of people are willing to vote for cash.”

Yelk raised some eyebrows and itself became a target for criticism after offering so-called post-election cash rewards to citizens who would refuse to sell their votes to the HHK. The alliance had said that each voter spurning vote bribes would be paid 15,000 drams ($31) from the municipal budget if its candidate, Pashinian, won the May 14 mayoral elections.

Pashinian and another senior representative of the alliance, Edmon Marukian, defended their campaign tactics today.

Marukian said that the tactics had brought the alliance some votes. “About a thousand ballot papers cast in our favor were marked with a red color, which means that these citizens took cash from the HHK and voted for us,” he claimed.

The HHK has all along denied the use of cash to buy votes in the elections. HHK leaders have repeatedly said that their party by far remains the most trusted political force in the country.

In contrast, Pashinian believes that despite his failure to win in the mayoral race, Yelk has managed to build on its earlier success in the general elections and also get a faction in Yerevan’s municipal body.

“I think that we have now entered a process when the influence of the Yelk alliance in Armenia’s political life has been confirmed and will continue to grow. In other words, in the next few years the main political trend will be Yelk’s growing political clout hopefully to the extent that will help it win the general elections,” the opposition leader underscored.

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