Former Vanadzor Mayor Mamikon Aslanyan prepares to cast a ballot in a local election, December 6, 2021

Vanadzor Oppositionists Decry ‘Illegal Power Grab’

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By Karine Simonian

VANADZOR, Armenia (RFE/RL) — Opposition groups in Vanadzor on Monday, April 4, accused Armenia’s leadership of seeking to nullify their victory in last December’s municipal election through what they see as an unconstitutional bill.

The city has had no mayor since Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s Civil Contract party was defeated in the election.

Civil Contract won only 25 percent of the vote there, compared to 39 percent polled by an opposition bloc led by former Vanadzor Mayor Mamikon Aslanyan. The bloc teamed up with the opposition Fatherland party, giving them a majority of seats in the local council empowered to elect the head of the community.

Aslanyan thus looked set to regain his post lost in October. But ten days after the ballot, he was arrested on corruption charges rejected by him as politically motivated.

Later in December, Armenia’s Administrative Court banned the new Vanadzor council from holding any sessions until July this year. It cited an appeal against the election results lodged by another pro-government party.

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The Armenian parliament hastily passed late last week government-backed legal amendments allowing Pashinyan to appoint an acting mayor of the city. The authors of the bill said it is aimed at addressing the post-election “disruption of normal governance” in Vanadzor and possibly other communities ..

Opposition lawmakers dismissed that explanation, condemning the bill as an attempt to overturn local election results.

Aslanyan’s Vanadzor-based political allies echoed those claims. One of them, Fatherland member Vahe Dokhoyan, said that Pashinyan’s administration violated the Armenian constitution and may now be preparing to force another municipal election later this year.

“Why did they push such a bill through the National Assembly? In order to install a person of their choice as community head, “he told RFE / RL’s Armenian Service.

Dokhoyan also claimed that the government was behind the court injunction blocking sessions of the Vanadzor council.

“What keeps them from allowing the court or telling it, as they always do, to let [the council] meet and elect a mayor?” he said.

Vahagn Hovakimyan, one of the authors of the amendments affiliated with Civil Contract, said it is aimed at addressing “disruption of normal governance” in such communities.

“We have such a problem in Vanadzor at the moment,” Hovakimyan said during a short parliament debate held under a so-called “urgent procedure.”

Opposition lawmakers dismissed the official rationale for amending the law. They insisted that Pashinyan is doing everything to retain control over Vanadzor and possibly other communities against the will of local voters.

“We are discussing an issue which solely applies to a community or communities where [the ruling party] failed to take power,” said Agnesa Khamoyan of the Hayastan alliance.

“If the authors of this bill were a bit more honest they would call it a bill on disenfranchising Mamikon Aslanyan and the people of Vanadzor,” charged another Hayastan parliamentarian.

Four other communities were also left in limbo as a result of nationwide local elections held on December 5. Pashinyan’s party was defeated or failed to win outright there. Opposition politicians and human rights campaigners in Yerevan accused the authorities of sabotaging the election of their new mayors to prevent them from falling under opposition control.

In one such community comprising the town of Vartenis and surrounding villages, police cordoned off the municipal administration building in early January to prevent a local opposition figure, Aharon Khachatryan, from taking over as mayor. Khachatryan finally managed to take office last month.

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