Until last year, the councils elected by local voters were required to appoint the mayors by secret ballot. The Armenian parliament controlled by Civil Contract scrapped this requirement and introduced an open ballot system ahead of local elections held in the vast majority of the country’s communities last fall.
The party led by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian suffered serious setbacks during those polls. It now wants to revert to the secret ballot. Lawmakers representing it have added a relevant provision to a package of fresh draft amendments to the Electoral Code unveiled this month.
Opposition parties have not yet commented on the proposed change. But some civic activists have expressed serious concern.
Daniel Ioannisian of the Yerevan-based Union of Informed Citizens claimed on Thursday that Pashinian’s political team is seeking a legal tool for effectively overturning unfavorable local election results through “political trading.” He said it tried unsuccessfully do this in the wake of last fall’s polls.
“The authorities tried to put pressure and convince or buy -- not necessarily with money, but by offering, for example, a job, as they tried to do in Meghri -- opposition members [of newly elected councils] so that they vote for Civil Contract,” Ioannisian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service. “Many oppositionists did not vote for Civil Contract, and in all of those communities except Talin opposition mayors were elected in the end.”
Ioannisian said the ruling party’s attempts were foiled by the open ballot system. “Now they want to make things secret again,” added the prominent activist.
One of the authors of the bill, Vahagn Hovakimian, denied that the authorities want to be able to co-opt opposition members of local councils. He claimed that the controversial amendment is aimed at facilitating power-sharing deals among election contenders.
The ruling party has reportedly begun preparations for the next municipal elections in Yerevan. The city’s current municipal council and mayor elected by it are due to complete their terms in office in September 2023. According to some media reports, Pashinian and his entourage may cut short their tenure and hold the elections this fall.
Ioannisian pointed out that Armenia’s former leadership exploited the secret ballot after being defeated in a local election held in the country’s third largest city of Vanadzor in 2016. Its mayoral candidate, Mamikon Aslanian, got elected at the time because some opposition members of the city council broke ranks and voted for him for still unknown reasons.
Ironically, Aslanian was arrested in December 2021 just days after an opposition bloc led by him essentially won the last Vanadzor election with about 39 percent of the vote. Civil Contract finished second with 25 percent.
Aslanian went on trial earlier this month on corruption charges rejected by him as politically motivated.