Armenia’s government and parliamentary opposition have joined forces to draft legislation that will abolish direct elections of the mayors of all towns and even some villages in the country.
Under the proposed bill debated by the Armenian parliament on Tuesday, only local communities with up to 4,000 residents will continue to have directly elected mayors.
Residents of the larger communities will elect, on a party-list basis, only local councils that will turn in appoint their mayors.
Such a mechanism is already in place in Armenia’s three largest cities: Yerevan, Gyumri and Vanadzor. The government, the ruling My Step bloc as well as the opposition Bright Armenia and Prosperous Armenia parties want to extend it to the other urban communities and large villages.
Presenting the bill to lawmakers, Minister for Local Government Suren Papikian said the proposed change will strengthen democracy in the country by increasing the role of political parties and alliances.
“This draft law guarantees that there will be a healthy political atmosphere in those communities,” he said. “The model existing in the [national] parliament will also be introduced in local communities.”
Papikian claimed that clan-based and even “criminal” connections have often been decisive for the outcome of direct mayoral elections held in those communities.
He also noted that many of them are still run by mayors who were elected in disputed circumstances before the 2018 “Velvet Revolution.” He did not deny that the current government wants to make it harder for them to get reelected.
The minister, who oversees provincial administrations and local governments, insisted at the same time that he has “never had a problem” with any town mayor.
Despite Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s popularity, candidates nominated or endorsed by his bloc have lost some of the mayoral elections held since the 2018 change of government.