Armenia’s ruling party believes the Sunday mayoral elections in Yerevan were a “serious step forward” as compared to the previous municipal vote held in the capital four years ago.
Led by incumbent mayor Taron Markarian in the city elections the Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) of President Serzh Sarkisian gained over 71 percent of the vote, according to the preliminary vote results published by the Central Electoral Commission, leaving its two opposition rivals – the Yelk (Way Out) alliance led by Nikol Pashinian and the Yerkir Tsirani party led by Zaruhi Postanjian – distant second and third, with 21 and 8 percent of the vote, respectively.
The ballot proceeded amid allegations of large-scale vote buying made against the HHK by both Yelk and Yerkir Tsirani.
The latter’s leader Postanjian even tried to get proof at one of HHK election offices located in Markarian’s home district of Avan that cash was distributed among local residents for their votes in favor of the incumbent mayor. Postanjian was eventually forced out of the HHK premises by police that were called up by ruling party activists. The opposition politician said her teenage daughter, who accompanied her, suffered a concussion and was taken to a hospital after she was driven away from the scene by the police. The police insisted afterwards that she was not detained, however.
Yelk representatives also cried foul before, during and after the ballot, alleging that “tens of thousands of citizens were involved in the bribe distribution and taking process.”
One day before the elections the Central Electoral Commission refused to seek a court ruling disqualifying the HHK from the race based on the evidence that Yelk claimed showed the pervasive nature of the vote buying scheme. It only agreed to ask prosecutors to investigate the alliance’s allegations.
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) on Monday, HHK spokesman Eduard Sharmazanov, who managed Markarian’s election campaign, again denied that the ruling party distributed cash among voters prior to the vote.
Sharmazanov went as far as to claim that the allegations made by the oppositionists only had an adverse effect on themselves, while making no harm to the HHK.
“The HHK registered an impressive victory due to Taron Markarian’s work, his professionalism, his realistic program. On the other hand, our political opponents lacked any competitive program of municipal management,” the HHK spokesman stressed.
Representatives of the observation groups monitoring the elections, however, insisted on Monday that the May 14 vote was not based on the free expression of will of the voters.
Artur Sakunts, a leading Armenian human rights activist, claimed that the elections were “10 steps forward in terms of non-democratic standards.” He insisted that based on the results of the observations the elections were not free either at the polling stations or outside them.
“For yet another time the very institution of elections in Armenia has been discredited. And the authorities have again sent a message to the public that it cannot achieve any changes through elections,” he said.
At their press conference today Sakunts and Daniel Ioannisian, of the Union of Informed Citizens, presented various violations observed during the elections, including pressure on voters, use of administrative resource, open ballot, guidance of voters, the presence of ‘fake’ observers acting as ruling party proxies at polling stations, obstructions to the work of observers and even violence and threats against them. They said they also observed violations during the vote counting process.
Central Electoral Commission head Tigran Mukuchian, however, said that separate incidents could not overshadow the electoral process as a whole and that, in his view, this process took place in accordance with the requirements of the Electoral Code.
Earlier, the Armenian police said they had received more than 100 reports about violations related to the elections and had already launched probes into nearly a third of them.