Eduard Babayan topped the list of BHK candidates in the election held on December 5. The opposition party won 44.4 percent of the vote, compared with 35.2 percent polled by Civil Contract.
Two other parties also won seats in the municipal council empowered to appoint the mayor of Abovian and surrounding villages making up a single community.
The 27-member council, in which the BHK controls 13 seats, narrowly elected Babayan during its inaugural session. The latter became mayor thanks to the backing of the sole council member representing the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), a more hardline opposition party.
Twelve other members of the local legislature voted for Civil Contract’s mayoral candidate, Pavel Tsugunian.
Located about 15 kilometers north of Yerevan, Abovian has long been a political stronghold of Tsarukian. Despite failing to win any seats in Armenia’s current parliament elected in June, the tycoon and his party appear to have retained much of their influence in the town of some 44,000 inhabitants.
Abovian’s previous mayor was also allied to Tsarukian. He defeated another Civil Contract candidate and got reelected in 2019.
Speaking right after his election, Babayan said that he has a popular mandate to govern Abovian.
“The people voted; I have nothing else to say,” he told reporters. “I will answer all your questions soon.”
Babayan, 49, was known as Tsarukian’s chief bodyguard until he became a parliament deputy in 2018. In 2019, he was sentenced to three and a half years in prison on charges of violent assault denied by him. The burly ex-policeman did not go to jail thanks to a general amnesty declared by the Armenian authorities.
Civil Contract’s Tsugunian, sought to rationalize the ruling party’s defeat in Abovian.
“Elections have been held every year [since 2018,]” he said. “People were probably tired and didn’t go the polls [in large numbers.]”
The party led by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian was also defeated in several other major communities, notably Armenia’s third largest city of Vanadzor, on December 5. Opposition leaders now accuse Pashinian of trying to reverse most of those setbacks with crackdowns on the leaders of local opposition groups that won or did well in the polls.
Mamikon Aslanian, a former Vanadzor mayor who was well placed to regain his post, was arrested on Tuesday on corruption charges rejected by him as politically motivated.
Law-enforcement authorities earlier arrested a local leader who looked set to prevent Civil Contract from installing its preferred mayor of another community. They deny political reasons for the arrests.