An opposition party representative has been elected first deputy mayor of Vanadzor after his faction struck a controversial deal with the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) to end a stymie in the work of a local municipal council boycotted by its majority opposition groups.
Following an offer from Vanadzor mayor Mamikon Aslanian representing the HHK, the leader of the five-member faction of the Armenian Revival party Arkady Peleshian agreed to sign a cooperation deal to share “responsibility for the work” of the city’s legislature.
The move changed the balance of forces in the 33-seat municipal council of Armenia’s third largest city in favor of the HHK and its junior coalition partner, Dashnaktsutyun, which together with Armenian Revival unanimously elected Peleshian first deputy mayor with 20 votes.
As a result of the October 2016 elections in Vanadzor the HHK and Dashnaktsutyun were a minority in the legislature, but they managed to install their candidate Aslanian as mayor of Vanadzor despite the agreement among three opposition parties, Bright Armenia, Prosperous Armenia and Armenian Revival, to have another candidate elected.
Aslanian then received 19 council votes cast in secret ballot, meaning that four opposition councilors secretly broke the ranks amid allegations of pressure put on the opposition parties.
Since that ballot all 18 opposition councilors have been boycotting sessions of the Vanadzor legislature. But despite the lack of quorum, the 15 other, pro-government councilors have held sessions of the council and adopted decisions on its behalf since March. The Vanadzor municipality has insisted that those decisions are valid, citing an article of Armenia’s Law on Local Government.
By its November 10 ruling Armenia’s Constitutional Court, however, backed the opposition claim that the article is unconstitutional and effectively gave until March 31, 2018 to redress the situation.
Edmon Marukian, an opposition lawmaker and leader of the Bright Armenia party, said the only way to comply with the Court’s ruling was holding new elections in the city, since the Court has effectively recognized that the municipal council has not functioned for as long as a year.
The opposition Yelk alliance in the Armenian parliament, of which Marukian is a senior member, on Monday called on the central government to terminate the powers of the Vanadzor municipal council and appoint early elections. “Now, in fact, the government will show how far it respects the decision of the Constitutional Court,” he said.
Pashinian called the deal reached between the pro-government forces in the Vanadzor municipal council and Armenian Revival “an ineffective attempt to revive a dead body.” He also claimed that the signing of the deal has exposed the force that ensured an HHK candidate’s victory in Vanadzor’s controversial mayoral election in October 2016. Armenian Revival denies breaking ranks in the vote a year ago.
Meanwhile, HHK parliamentary faction leader Vahram Baghdasarian said on Monday that there is no need to turn to the government over the situation in Vanadzor. He expressed an opinion that sessions of the city’s municipal council were held in accordance with the law. “It is another question that [the Constitutional Court ruling] mentions a contradiction between the Law on Local Government and the Constitution. By March 31, this law should be brought in conformity with the Constitution,” he said, stressing that he sees no reasons for holding pre-term elections in Vanadzor.