The ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) has been cleared of any wrongdoing by a criminal investigation into vote buying and other irregularities alleged by an opposition alliance during recent municipal elections in Yerevan.
On the eve of the May 14 elections, the Yelk alliance claimed to have found in a trash bin outside an HHK campaign office documents exposing irregularities planned or already committed by the HHK. Most of them purportedly detailed vote buying operations by government loyalists, including sums of money and guidelines on how to buy votes.
According to Yelk, another document contained the names of police officers who pledged to earn the HHK and Yerevan’s incumbent Mayor Taron Markarian a particular number of votes. The document was allegedly faxed from a telephone number belonging to the Armenian police.
The Yelk leadership was quick to forward the purported evidence of fraud to law-enforcement authorities. Armenia’s Special Investigative Service (SIS) pledged to conduct an investigation.
An SIS spokesperson told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) on Thursday that the criminal case has been closed for lack of evidence. The official declined to elaborate on the decision, saying that the SIS has submitted written explanations to Yelk.
A senior member of Yelk, Artak Zeynalian, said, however, that the opposition bloc has not yet received any letters from the law-enforcement body. He said Yelk will appeal to prosecutors to overturn the SIS’s decision.
“The prosecutors will obviously not make an objective and impartial decision. So we will then go to court. But since the court will do the same, we will appeal to an appropriate body,” Zeynalian added in an apparent reference to the European Court of Human Rights.
“The decision to close the criminal case is illegal as it covers up a whole chain of crimes,” charged another Yelk leader, Edmon Marukian.
According to official elections results, the HHK won 71 percent of the vote, meaning that Markarian was reelected for another four-year term. Yelk and its mayoral candidate, Nikol Pashinian, came in a distant second with 21 percent.
Yelk, which was set up by three opposition parties late last year, finished third in Armenia’s parliamentary elections held in April. That election too was marred by opposition allegations that the HHK bribed voters and abused its administrative resources. The party headed by President Serzh Sarkisian denied that.