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Concerns emerging over May municipal election

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Voting 019.jpg

Residents of Yerevan will for the first time vote to elect a Mayor in May. Fearful that an elected Mayor would rival the power of the presidency, the municipal head had previously been officially appointed until the constitution was amended by a referendum held in November 2005. The 31 May election will also be the first democratic test for the authorities following last year's disputed presidential election. However, some concerns are already being raised in international circles regarding legislation governing conduct of the vote.

Under a new law, Yerevan will be governed by a board of 65 party-affiliated alderman and the Mayor will be elected automatically if one party or polical bloc gathers more than 50 percent of the vote. Otherwise, the position will be determined by the board of newly-elected alderman. However, speaking to Frontline, the head of one international organization says that a provision in a new law on Local Self Governance in Yerevan could adversely affect the outcome. Others are more cynical and allege that the outcome of the vote has already been decided.

The controversy surrounds one provision of the new law which states that if a political party or bloc has more than 40 percent of the seats on the board of alderman but not the majority, they will be automatically allocated the extra seats necessary to appoint their nominee as Mayor. The clause was added to the bill in its second reading during a parliamentary session coinciding with the Christmas and New Year holidays. Only the parliamentary opposition Hertitage party criticized the move and few media outlets have so far picked up on the change.

Although such practices might seem less contentious in established democracies, Frontline was told by the specialist on democratic reform in the former Soviet Union that such a provision in a countries with a history of flawed elections was alarming and a form of "legitimized falsification." In the 2007 parliamentary election, for example, the ruling Republican Party received only 33 percent of the vote under the propertional system and most observers believe that it could not gain more than 50 percent in properly conducted local elections.

Therefore, Frontline was told, allocating additional seats on the board is a way to minimize but not prevent the need for significant fraud on election day itself. It was also likely to result in a Republican victory in May. Some are already speculating that notorious Kentron district head Gagik Beglarian -- better known by his Chorni (Black) Gago nickname -- would therefore take the position. Nevertheless, others contend that as the electorate has a track record of not showing interest in local or even parliamentary elections, believing that all power lies with the presidency, it probably doesn't matter anyway.

What could change the situation, however, is if the opposition decides to seriously contest the vote.

Basically, the argument goes, as an elected Mayor of Yerevan would govern a city where nearly a third of the country's population lives, the political and economic leverage the position represents is significant. In a country where even the parliament has no real political power, a popularly elected Mayor would represent a real threat to the presidency. It is for this reason, perhaps, that Heritage has already suggested that the party should form a bloc with the extra-parliamentary opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) led by former president Levon Ter-Petrossian. 

However, no decision has been taken yet and might be dependent on the turnout for the first anniversary of last year's post election clashes to be marked in the capital tomorrow.

Photo: Polling Station, Yerevan, Republic of Armenia © Onnik Krikorian / Oneworld Multimedia 2008


Onnik Krikorian | March 3, 2009 8:57 AM | Reply

The extra-parliamentary opposition led by former President Levon Ter-Petrossian has now said that it will be contesting the May municipal election. Indeed, it's next rally is staged for the beginning of May. Meanwhile, press reports speculate that the controversial Gagik Beglarian is likely to become the next Mayor of Yerevan.

Observer | March 6, 2009 8:24 PM | Reply

Let's say - nobody really doubts that Gagik Beglarian (who is already the Mayor of Yerevan), will also be elected to this post on May 31st.

Onnik Krikorian | March 7, 2009 9:54 AM | Reply

Update for readers, as Observer informs, the speculation surrounding Beglarian was correct and he was appointed Mayor of Yerevan in the run-up to May's election this week:

President Serzh Sarkisian replaced Yerevan Mayor Yervand Zakharian by another loyalist on Wednesday in a move apparently aimed at helping his Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) win the upcoming elections of the first municipal council in over a decade.


Zakharian’s replacement, Gagik Beglarian, was chosen by the HHK leadership on Saturday to lead the list of the party’s candidates in the elections scheduled for May 31. That means he will be re-appointed as Yerevan mayor if the HHK wins the majority of 65 seats in the assembly. link

Onnik Krikorian | March 7, 2009 10:05 AM | Reply

Incidentally, this is the information passed on to me by an international organization in Yerevan:

The law further specifies that if political party/bloc has received more than 40% of seats but does not have the absolute majority of seats in the city council then extra seats are allocated to that part/bloc in order to gain absolute majority. For example if a party gets 27 seats (which is more than 40%) then extra 6 seats will be allocated to that party in order to have absolute majority in the council, i.e. 33 seats.


It is worth mentioning that the major differences between the first reading draft and the second reading draft of the Yerevan law was the introduction of bonus seats for the political party/bloc with more than 40% and less than 50% of votes. The oppositional Heritage Party considered the second draft a regression. Nevertheless, the ruling coalition parties had no problem passing the law with the absolute majority that they have in the Parliament.

It should also be noted that the law on Yerevan was passed during the 2008 Christmas and New Year season when many international and local organizations are less active.


[...] the bonus system under local Armenian circumstances would be an extra leverage to gain absolute power in the Yerevan self-governance bodies. The motivation of the authors of the law may become clearer if we look at the results of the 2007 National Assembly elections. The Republican Party received only 33% of votes through the proportional system even with certain controversy and fraud incorporated in that percentage. Realistically the ruling party/parties cannot expect to gain 50% of votes nor can they manipulate the results of elections too obviously and rudely among strongly opposition minded electorate like Yerevan.

Onnik Krikorian | March 14, 2009 3:28 PM | Reply

And here's an unofficial translation of the law governing the municipal election from an international organization operating in Armenia:


On making changes and amendments in the Electoral Code of the Republic of Armenia




4. If, as a result of mandate distribution pursuant to the procedure specified in this paragraph, one of the parties receives over 40 percent but not the absolute majority of the seats, then the absolute majority of seats is given to that party, and the other mandates are distributed among the electoral lists of the parties having received the right to participate in the distribution of mandates.

5. The rest of the mandates are distributed among the electoral lists in the order of the size of the remainder, by the principle of one mandate to each. In case if the sizes of remainders are equal, the disputable mandate is given to the electoral list that has received the most votes cast for, and in case of equality thereof, the issue is resolved by drawing a lot.


Ani | March 15, 2009 3:41 PM | Reply

Just saw this on Lragir (which one still cannot link to). If this is reported accurately, an interesting development?


On March 15, a joint session of the political board of the Armenian National Congress (HAK) and the central office took place with the participation of Levon Ter-Petrosyan.

Questions regarding the forthcoming Mayor elections were discussed. According to the decision made during the session, the Armenian National Congress (HAK) will run in the Mayor election. The first president of Armenia will lead their list.

According to another decision, the member parties of the Armenian National Congress instructed the central office to discuss the question regarding the proposal of the Heritage Party on the joint running in the elections and to start official negotiations in this relation.

Onnik Krikorian | March 16, 2009 5:29 AM | Reply

Ani, sure it is although a lot depends on how much attention residents in Yerevan will give to the vote. On the other hand, if the global economic crisis hits home even more as the weeks progress, the potential is there to make this a significant test for the authorities. Given the Republican candidate, this also becomes a potentially tense clash, especially if it looks as though some significant falsification will be needed even with the 40 percent provision.

Anyway, as I said in my post on the 1 March anniversary rally, the fact that the opposition had announced 1 May for their next demonstration was very telling indeed. A lot depends on the mood of residents as well as their interest in (and understanding of the importance of) the election, however, and that will be clearer in the next month or so.

What do you think?