Ruling Party Downplays Local Election Setbacks

The ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) has insisted that it is satisfied with its performance in September 18 local elections despite being defeated in around three dozen communities across the country.

Its spokesman Eduard Sharmazanov argued that HHK candidates won mayoral elections in 158 towns and villages. He said election winners in 22 other communities applied for HHK membership immediately after the polls.

The elections were held on September 18 in 317 mostly rural communities. The fact that the HHK will continue to control most of them amounts to a “quite serious vote of confidence” in the party headed by President Serzh Sarkisian, Sharmazanov told reporters.

Hovannes Sahakian, a senior HHK figure, also sought to downplay the local election setbacks earlier this week. He attributed them to the ruling party’s “incorrect policies.”

Armenian vote-monitoring groups reported many irregularities after the polls. One of them, the Citizen Observer, said its monitors witnessed fraudulent voting in place of other citizens, and election officials’ failure to put mandatory seals on ballots. It also said that groups of intimidating individuals gathered outside some polling stations in violation of the country’s electoral legislation.

In Echmiadzin, a town 20 kilometers west of Yerevan, the main challenger of the incumbent Mayor Karen Grigorian was beaten up by a large group of men and hospitalized the day before the ballot. The candidate, Artur Tumanian, has blamed the violence on Grigorian, a claim strongly denied by the mayor.

Tumanian says that he and one his associates were attacked while trying to locate a supporter “kidnapped” by the Grigorian campaign. Police have made one arrest in connection with the alleged kidnapping.

The chairman of Armenia’s Central Election Commission (CEC), Tigran Mukuchian, insisted that the September 18 polls were “free and fair” despite the reported irregularities and violence. “The elections were held in accordance with the Electoral Code’s requirements,” he told a news conference.

Mukuchian defended the CEC’s decision not to cancel the Echmiadzin election. He argued that Tumanian did not formally demand a cancellation despite his complaints voiced through media.