The town of Berd was one of about a dozen communities across the country where Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s Civil Contract party was defeated in elections held on September 25.
Harutiun Manucharian has run the recently expanded community, which now also comprises several villages close to Berd, since 2012. He ran for reelection while being in detention on corruption charges denied by him.
A local opposition bloc led by Manucharian got 51.6 percent of the vote, compared with 39 percent garnered by Civil Contract. It thus won the overall majority of seats in the local council empowered to elect the community head.
Manucharian announced his resignation from jail last week. A judge presiding over his unfolding trial agreed to grant him bail the following day.
Manucharian claimed on Monday that he was not forced to resign his seat in the Berd council and thereby renounce reelection. He refused to give reasons for his decision.
“My release and resignation are not connected with each other,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service. “It was just coincidence.”
Over the past year, Berd has been governed by Samvel Hovsepian, Manucharian’s deputy who was also second on his bloc’s list of local election candidates. Hovsepian and two other loyalists of the jailed mayor were arrested on election day for allegedly forcing a local government employee to join Manucharian’s bloc. They deny the accusations.
Yerevan-based opposition figures condemned the arrests as politically motivated. They as well as some media outlets said the ruling party is still trying to gain control over the community despite its election loss.
Hovsepian and the two other detainees also gave up their seats in the Berd council last week. Aram Nigoyan, another political ally of the ex-mayor, confirmed on Monday they ceded their council seats to other members of Manucharian’s bloc to make sure that it has enough votes to install the next mayor and retain control over the municipal administration.
The new Berd council is due to hold an inaugural session and elect the mayor within a month. Its arrested members would not be able to attend the session and vote.
The Armenian authorities have also been accused by critics of trying to overturn local election results in Vanadzor, the country’s third largest city where Pashinian’s party was defeated last December.
An opposition bloc led by Vanadzor Mayor Mamikon Aslanian essentially won the election with about 39 percent of the vote. Civil Contract finished second with 25 percent,
Aslanian was arrested ten days after the ballot, with law-enforcement authorities saying that he illegally privatized municipal land during his five-year tenure. He rejects the accusations as politically motivated.
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 local election results lodged by another pro-government party.