Thousands of people marched through the city in the evening in the Civil Contract party’s final campaign rally led by the candidate, Tigran Avinian, as well as Pashinian and members of his government and political team. Two local election-monitoring groups said earlier in the day that they are receiving numerous complaints that people working for local government bodies, schools and other public entities are ordered by their superiors to attend the rally.
“We have received not only anonymous reports,” said Daniel Ioannisian, the coordinator of the Independent Observer coalition. “We also have reports from very concrete people who are fortunately ready to not only identify themselves but also speak up. But in any case, we need to verify the information provided by those individuals.”
The other monitoring group, Akanates (Witness), cited similar reports about Yerevan district administrations telling their subordinates to leave work early to attend the rally that was marked by tight security. It publicized photos that purportedly show local government employees in the northern Nor Nork district gathering to be bused to the starting point of the demonstration.
Avinian already found himself in hot water when he held a smaller rally in Nor Nork on September 8. A video filmed by civic activists and posted on social media suggested that entire staffs of schools, kindergartens and local government bodies participated in it. Avinian insisted afterwards that they were not forced to attend.
Pashinian also denied the allegations earlier this week. At the same time he pledged to fire anyone ordering public workers to rally for his party.
Ioannisian dismissed the pledge, saying that Armenia’s former leaders likewise denied the illegal practice that was widespread during their rule. He also argued that under Armenian law, forcing people to attend political gatherings is a crime punishable by between three and six years in prison, rather than mere sacking.
Avinian sparked more allegations of foul play on Friday when he met with hundreds of students of the State Engineering University of Armenia despite a legal ban on any campaigning in educational institutions. Some of the students told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service that the university administration encouraged them to skip classes to attend the meeting.
The ruling party’s campaign headquarters claimed that he went there in his capacity as chairman of the university’s board of trustees, rather than a mayoral candidate. However, a video of the meeting released by the Independent Observer shows him speaking at length about his campaign promises.
“We will have a good public transport system, sidewalks free of kiosks, parks where you will be able to spend time with your friends, courtyards with football fields and playgrounds, instead of garages,” Avinian told the students.
“Saying that a visit to a university on the last day of the election campaign cannot be considered campaigning means offending common sense,” said Akanates’s Mariam Hoveyan.
The Avinian campaign was accused of illegal use of its government levers throughout the election campaign and even in the months leading up to it. It filed a defamation suit against Ioannisian’s organization late last month.
“We did not expect to see the abuse of administrative resources on such a sacle,” Ioannisian said on Friday.