The new mayor, Arkadi Peleshian, has a history of violent behavior. An obscure party led by him won less than 15 percent of the vote in the municipal election held last December. It trailed Pashinian’s Civil Contract Party and former Vanadzor Mayor Mamikon Aslanian’s bloc that got 25 percent and 39 percent respectively.
Aslanian was thus well-placed to regain his post lost in October. But ten days after the vote, he was arrested on corruption charges rejected by him as politically motivated.
Later in December, Armenia’s Administrative Court blocked the first session of Vanadzor’s new municipal council empowered to elect the mayor. It cited an appeal against the election results lodged by another pro-government party that fared poorly in the ballot.
The appeal was subsequently rejected by two other courts. The Bright Armenia Party responded by appealing to the higher Court of Cassation.
The court has still not ruled on the appeal. Local and Yerevan-based opposition figures have accused it of executing a government order to prevent Aslanian’s reelection.
Last month, Civil Contract hastily pushed through the Armenian parliament a bill that empowered the prime minister to name acting heads of communities whose newly elected councils fail to elect mayors within 20 days after local polls.
Opposition lawmakers said the main purpose of the bill is to allow Pashinian to retain control over Vanadzor’s municipal administration despite his party’s election defeat.
The ruling party and Peleshian’s HASK have acted in unison since the December election.
Peleshian, 42, was a deputy mayor of Vanadzor until the vote. Law-enforcement authorities have not commented on his possible involvement in the arrested ex-mayor’s allegedly corrupt practices.
Peleshian cut a power-sharing deal with Aslanian in 2017 one year after being briefly arrested on charges of beating up the head of the Armenian Evangelical Church in Vanadzor. Armenia’s Investigative Committee said he assaulted the Rev. Rafael Grigorian for “not supporting him” in the previous local election held in 2016.
Peleshian avoided trial and imprisonment at the time. Vanadzor’s new acting mayor had previously been accused of starting a drunken fight inside a local shop.