An opposition bloc led by Mamikon Aslanian essentially won the election with about 39 percent of the vote. Civil Contract finished second with 25 percent, the most serious of setbacks suffered by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s party 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, with law-enforcement authorities saying that he illegally privatized municipal land during his five-year tenure.
The former mayor insisted at the start of his trial that the charges leveled against him “have nothing to do with criminal justice.” His lawyers petitioned a Vanadzor judge presiding over the trial to release their client from custody pending a verdict in the case.
A trial prosecutor objected to the request, saying that Aslanian could exert pressure on witnesses if set free. Defense lawyers countered that none of the three dozen witnesses in the case has testified against the ex-mayor.
“If someone gave testimony refuting the accusations why would Mamikon Aslanian want to influence that person?” one of the lawyers told the court.
The judge will rule on Monday whether Aslanian must remain under arrest.
Aslanian’s supporters as well as opposition figures in Yerevan say that Pashinian ordered the ex-mayor’s arrest and prosecution to make sure that the Vanadzor municipality remains under his control. They have accused the prime minister of effectively overturning the local election results.
Vanadzor’s new municipal council has still not been able to meet and elect the city’s new mayor. Armenia’s Administrative Council has banned the council from holding sessions, citing an appeal against the election results lodged by another pro-government party, Bright Armenia.
The ban remains in force even though the appeal was rejected by two other courts earlier this year. Bright Armenia, which fared poorly in the December polls, appealed to the higher Court of Cassation. The latter has still not ruled on the complaint.
In April, Pashinian’s party swiftly pushed through the Armenian parliament a bill that empowered the prime minister to name acting heads of communities whose councils fail to elect mayors within 20 days after local elections.
On May 13, Pashinian appointed a man with a criminal record, Arkadi Peleshian, as Vanadzor’s acting mayor.
Peleshian served as deputy mayor from 2017-2021. An obscure party led by him won less than 15 percent of the vote in December.