Gyumri has been run by Samvel Balasanian, a local businessman, for the last nine years. Although Balasanian decided not to seek another term in office, a newly created bloc bearing his name joined the mayoral race.
The Balasanian Bloc garnered 36.6 percent of the vote, earning it 14 seats in the 33-member city council empowered to elect the mayor. In a serious setback for Pashinian, the ruling Civil Contract party finished second with 11 seats. The remaining eight seats were distributed among three opposition parties.
The new council elected Balasanian Bloc’s mayoral candidate, Vardges Samsonian, by 24 votes to 8.
Samsonian, who previously headed a municipal agency providing utility services, pledged to strive to turn Gyumri into a “well-maintained, green, tranquil, consolidated, clean and developing city looking to its future with confidence.”
He was backed by council members representing his bloc and Pashinian’s party in line with a “memorandum of cooperation” signed by the two political forces on Saturday.
A senior Civil Contract member who signed the deal said they agreed to share “responsibility for governing the city” and pursue a “coordinated staffing policy.” The deal entitles Civil Contract to naming Gyumri’s deputy mayors, she said.
It was signed two days after two senior municipal officials affiliated with the Balasanian Bloc were arrested by Armenia’s National Security Service on corruption charges. The bloc did not publicly allege political reasons behind the arrests.
Some Armenian outlets reported earlier in October that the Balasanian Bloc is facing strong pressure from the central government to reach a power-sharing deal with Pashinian’s party and even cede the post of mayor to it. Senior party figures denied such pressure.
Civil Contract’s list of candidates in the Gyumri election was topped by Hovannes Harutiunian, the governor of surrounding Shirak province. Harutiunian is now widely expected to be sacked and replaced by a pro-government member of the Armenian parliament, Nazeli Baghdasarian. The latter will be the fourth provincial governor handpicked by Pashinian in the last three and a half years.
The Balasanian Bloc would have still managed to install Samsonian as mayor had it accepted a coalition proposal from the opposition Zartonk (Awakening) party that controls four seats in the new Gyumri council. A representative of the bloc, Sona Arakelian, said it chose to team up with the ruling party instead because “the people of Gyumri gave the largest number of votes to these two forces.”
Less than one-quarter of the city’s eligible voters went to the polls on October 17.
Samsonian also defended his bloc’s political choice criticized by opposition groups. “By gaining an absolute majority [in the council] we will manage to jointly address Gyumri’s problems even more rapidly,” the newly elected mayor told reporters. “If we were not united, there would be a problem.”