YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Police cordoned off the municipal administration building in Vardenis on Tuesday, January 4, to prevent a local opposition figure from taking over as mayor of the eastern Armenian town and nearby villages.
The mostly rural community has been in turmoil since the December 5 election of a local council empowered to appoint its mayor. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan Civil Contract party garnered most votes but fell short of an overall majority in the 27-member council, winning only 13 seats there.
The remaining 14 seats were won by two local opposition blocs. They reached a power-sharing deal and nominated one of their leaders, Aharon Khachatryan, for the post of community head.
The 14 opposition members of the new Vardenis council elected Khachatryan as mayor during its inaugural session held on December 30. Civil Contract members led by Aram Melkonyan, Vardenis’s incumbent mayor seeking reelection, tried to disrupt the session before walking out in protest.
Melkonyan went on to ask Armenia’s Administrative Court to annul the appointment of the new mayor, saying it was “illegal.” The opposition forces dismissed the allegation and scheduled Khachatryan’s inauguration for Monday.
Scores of police officers deployed at the entrance to the local government building did not allow the council majority to enter it to hold the swearing-in ceremony. Local police chiefs told the oppositionists that Khachatryan cannot start performing his duties because of the lawsuit filed by the ruling party.