Yerevan Mayoral Race Is Dry Run for Parliamentary Elections

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Yerevan Mayoral Race Is Dry Run for Parliamentary Elections

By Edmond Y. Azadian These are not ordinary times in Yerevan, nor was the mayoral race ordinary which took place on September 23. The snap election to choose a new mayor for the capital of Yerevan took place following the early resignation of the previous mayor, Taron Margaryan.

The significance of the election will have a far-reaching impact on the political landscape of Armenia, far beyond bringing to power new faces in light of the Velvet Revolution, which catapulted the former opposition leader, Nikol Pashinyan, to the office of prime minister.

Observers in Armenia and the region have been watching the developments which will serve as a bellwether for the emerging political trends in and around Armenia.

It was ironic when Pashinyan announced that by watching the outcome of the Velvet Revolution even Azerbaijani people will bring about a revolution in their own country.

Citizens in Armenia have pinned their hopes on the new prime minister, who has promised modern, organized and efficient governance in an atmosphere of brotherly love and tolerance.

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However, the former members of the political elite are not sleeping and are still eager to return to power.

The Velvet Revolution has not yet run its course to bring about the promise which the leader pledged. Indeed, an odd situation has developed, where the executive is in the minority relative to the legislative body; the Republican Party still has a commanding presence in the parliament with 61 members. The Prosperous Armenia Party of Gagik Tsarukyan has 31 members, the ARF 7, and the Yelk Alliance 9, which includes three members from Pashinyan’s My Step (Eem Kayleh) movement.

Although in the past Prosperous Armenia and the ARF entered into coalitions with the ruling Republican Party, at this point, they act independently and they have not yet solidified into one opposition alliance. If such a scenario were to happen, Pashinyan’s government might be paralyzed. That is why the prime minister is looking beyond the elections.

As long as the Velvet Revolution remains unsettled, the political process will continue to be in a very fragile situation. While Pashinyan has momentum on his side, it is in his interest to organize early snap elections to consolidate his power. That is why the Yerevan mayoral election became so crucial in forecasting Armenia’s political future.

The mayoral elections on September 23 took place with 12 different groups competing, which included four alliances and eight political parties.

In order to succeed, the political parties had to garner 6 percent of the vote and the alliances 8 percent.

The election was not a direct one for the mayor; it was for 65 city elders. Whichever party received a commanding lead would appoint its leader as the city’s mayor.

It is important to note that this was the first free election in the country and voters were warned of stiff punishment for irregularities and bribes. Any voter offering or receiving bribes would be risking a jail term of five to eight years.

There were intense debates about the merits of the candidates, particularly about the comedian Marutyan.

There was a relaxed atmosphere when the voters approached the ballot box.

Unofficial results showed that the voter turnout was light, 44 percent. This result gave some political ammunition to the ousted leadership which tried to correlate the results to lackluster support for the new leadership, since Pashinyan had campaigned heavily in support of his team, headed by Haik Marutyan. Even on the early morning of the election, on his way to New York for his appearance at the United Nations, the prime minister made it a point to cast his ballot before leaving.

There are 848,343 registered voters in Yerevan.

In fact, it turned out that the election participation was only 3 percent lower than in the previous election. The government party explained the shortfall with the fact that In the past, people were bribed to vote. Even the dead and absentees figured among the voters. Also, political parties provided transportation to the voters to buy their voices.

The current election was on a voluntary basis and in a peaceful atmosphere to reflect the realistic profile of the electorate.

The results were as follows: My Step, 81 percent; Looys Alliance 4.9 percent; ARF (Dashnaktsutyun), 1.6 percent; Tsirani Yerkir (Zarouhi Postanjian’s party), 1.3 percent.

The remaining groups received 1 percent or fewer votes.

The election results blew off the mask of the previous elections, when parties claimed more popularity than they actually enjoyed.

Now comes the real issue: As long as the Republican party enjoys a majority (61 members) in the parliament, Pashinyan will be heading a lame duck government. Therefore, based on the overwhelming victory of his party in Yerevan, he assumes that he has already received a mandate from the electorate to dissolve the parliament.

Although there are various mechanisms to dissolve parliament, they are cumbersome and time consuming, whereas time is of the essence to Pashinyan.

The other way is to submit the budget to the parliament and seek its approval. In case of a negative vote, the government would have a second chance, after which the government would have no confidence and resort to dissolving the parliament.

Nikol Pashinyan came to power in a dramatic fashion. Although he did not have a parliamentary majority, he was able to force the parliament members to vote him in, through popular action. His announcement after the release of the election results indicates that he may opt again for the revolutionary method that served him so well in the spring.

In the meantime, the old guard is getting organized to offer stiff resistance to Pashinyan. Besides the old guard, dissident groups splintered from Pashinyan’s own Yelk Alliance will resort to opposing him, though there is no indication yet whether this latter group may join the old guard in opposition. As long as disparate groups oppose Pashinyan’s moves, he may be able to force the dissolution of the parliament and call for new elections, which experts predict will take place in the fall of 2019. If Pashinyan has his way, he will expedite the elections and move them to late spring or early summer.

The Velvet Revolution has transformed the political landscape in Armenia. We may soon witness true democracy in action.

(Yerevan, Armenia)

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