Amid a continuing lack of interest shown by opposition parties, the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) dominated local elections held in 69 communities across the country at the weekend.
More than 30 of those communities were only recently incorporated into single administrative entities, each of them having previously consisted of several villages. It was the first election of their new mayors and local councils.
According to preliminary official results released on Monday, mayoral candidates nominated or endorsed by the HHK prevailed in at least 37 communities, including more than a dozen towns. They ran unopposed in several of those towns.
In another town, Goris, the Republican incumbent mayor was only nominally challenged by a non-partisan candidate, Samvel Harutiunian. The barely campaigned and did not even cast a ballot on election day. Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am), Harutiunian called the Goris vote a “charade” and accused the HHK of again abusing its administrative resources.
The HHK dominance was so strong that in some communities members of the party headed by President Serzh Sarkisian challenged each other.
The HHK’s junior coalition partner, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), fielded three candidates in the local polls. Two of them were reportedly elected heads of rural communities.
Armenia’s second largest parliamentary force, which is led by businessman Gagik Tsarukian and claims to be in opposition to President Sarkisian, had only seven mayoral candidates. Three of them won in their respective communities.
None of the other Armenian opposition groups chose to join the electoral race, reflecting their lack of financial resources and strong regional chapters. Opposition leaders have long claimed that the outcomes of local elections are essentially decided by vote buying, use of administrative resources and other irregularities.
The established opposition showed much stronger interest in municipal elections that were held in Yerevan in April 2017 and Gyumri and Vanadzor, the country’s second and third largest cities, a year ago.
The opposition Yelk bloc monitored Sunday’s polls through its representatives sitting on election commissions. A senior Yelk member, Davit Khazhakian, claimed on Monday that many voters were pressurized or bribed into backing various wealthy candidates.
An RFE/RL correspondent reported from Odzun, a large village in the northern Lori province, that many elderly voters were guided by other individuals as they entered polling booths. Election officials there said those voters claim to have eye problems and require “assistance.” “I just can’t refuse to allow others to help them,” said Suren Papikian, the Yelk-affiliated chairman of one of Odzun’s two precinct commissions.
Barsegh Ayvazian, a non-partisan candidate narrowly defeated by the incumbent community mayor, on Monday demanded a vote recount.
Tension ran high in the southeastern Vayots Dzor province where another newly consolidated community comprising several villages elected its new chief executive. Dozens of local residents blocked a nearby highway on Monday in protest against the official vote results that gave victory to an HHK candidate. They charged that the latter won as a result of vote buying. The protesters were supporters of a defeated candidate, who has run one of those villages until now.
One of Sunday’s most competitive contests was in Achajur, a rural community in the northern Tavush village. A 39-year-old owner of a village grocery store representing the HHK defeated Achajur’s incumbent mayor and two other candidates. His rivals appeared to concede defeat.
“This is a rare election after which there is no talk of vote bribes, brute force or other coercion,” the head of a regional election commission in Tavush, Gagik Abovian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.