A bloc led by Mamikon Aslanian essentially won the election with about 39 percent of the vote. Civil Contract party finished second with 25 percent, the most serious of setbacks suffered by it in local polls held in 36 communities across Armenia on December 5.
Aslanian was thus well-placed to regain his post lost in October. But he was arrested on December 15 on corruption charges rejected by him as politically motivated.
The court on Thursday allowed law-enforcement authorities to hold Aslanian in detention for two more months. His lawyers denounced the decision as baseless and said they will appeal it.
Prosecutors deny any political reasons behind the case. They claim that Aslanian illegally privatized municipal land during his five-year tenure.
Vanadzor’s new municipal council has still not been able to hold its inaugural session and elect the community head. Visiting the city earlier this week, Minister for Territorial Administration Gnel Sanosian downplayed the fact that it has had no mayor for over two months.
Four other communities where Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s party was defeated or failed to win outright on December 5 also remain in limbo.
In one such community comprising the town of Vartenis and surrounding villages, police cordoned off the municipal administration building in early January to prevent a local opposition figure, Aharon Khachatrian, from taking over as mayor.
Khachatrian was elected by 14 members of the 27-seat local council representing two opposition blocs. Armenia’s Administrative Court declared his election null and void last week following a lawsuit filed by the ruling party.
Khachatrian’s main ally was arrested shortly after the blocs led by two men reached a power-sharing agreement in December.
Opposition politicians and human rights campaigners in Yerevan have accused Pashinian of sabotaging the election of new heads of these communities to prevent them from falling under opposition control.
Arman Tatoyan, Armenia’s human rights ombudsman, similarly charged on December 17 that opposition groups that did well there are being illegally pressured not to install their leaders or allies as mayors. Pashinian and his political allies deny this.
Last summer, the authorities also arrested the opposition-linked heads of four major communities of southeastern Syunik province. Two of them were set free in December after the Constitutional Court deemed their arrest illegal, saying that they were elected to the parliament and enjoy immunity from prosecution.
The two other Syunik mayors remain under arrest. A bloc led by one of them defeated Pashinian’s party by a wide margin in a local election held in October.