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Ruling party falls short of majority in Yerevan elections

18 September 2023
Civil Contract mayoral candidate Tigran Avinyan and National Progress candidate Hayk Marutyan.

Armenia’s ruling Civil Contract party has failed to win a majority in the Yerevan City Council elections, despite receiving most votes. Their main challenger, National Progress led by Hayk Marutyan, came in second place.

The preliminary result of Sunday’s election gave Civil Contract 24 of 65 seats on the council, with 33% of the vote. This was a dramatic decline from the previous elections in 2018, when Hayk Marutyan led the party’s list, winning 81% of the vote.

National Progress, now led by Marutyan came in second place with 14 seats and 19% of the vote. Marutyan, originally a writer and comedian, emerged as the biggest challenger to Civil Contract after throwing his hat into the ring earlier this year.

Three other of the 14 parties and alliances that took part in the vote passed the 4% threshold (6% for electoral alliances) to secure seats. 

The Mother Armenia Alliance, backed by former president Robert Kocharyan, received 15% of the vote and eight seats. 

Hanrapetutyun, founded by Aram Sargsyan, the brother of Armenia’s former Defence Minister Vazgen Sargsyan, received 11% and eight seats. 

Public Voice, founded by fugitive Vardan Ghukasyan, known as ‘Dog’, received 10% of the vote and seven seats. Ghukasyan is a popular political social media influencer and a former police officer, who has been wanted by Armenian police since May. The investigative committee has accused him of extortion, contempt of court, and public calls for violence.

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It is not yet clear who will be the next mayor of Yerevan. 

On Monday, Vardan Ghukasyan appealed to Hayk Marutyan of the National Progress party and Andranik Tevanyan who leads the Mother Armenia Alliance to form a coalition. Combined, the three would have a majority of one on the council and be able to select the next mayor.

Ghukasyan said he did not object to either Marutyan or Tevanyan as mayor. He also speculated that Hanrapetutyun whose mayoral candidate Artak Zeynalyan served as Minister of Justice in 2018–2019, would most likely side with Civil Contract.

But on Monday morning, Hayk Grigoryan, the second on the list of National Progress, appeared to rule out an opposition coalition, stating that he believed ‘the only possible’ coalition possible would be between Civil Contract and Hanrapetutyun.

Low turnout 

Sunday’s elections had the lowest turnout in the history of the Yerevan City Council, with only 28% of eligible voters casting their ballots. In the previous vote in 2018, turnout was 44%.

‘I can say that the dynamics of participation in the last elections have gone down’, said Vahagn Hovakimyan, the Chair of the Central Electoral Commission. 

However, Hovakimyan, a former MP from the Prime Minister’s My Step faction, played down the significance of the low turnout.

‘As a person who has professional knowledge of electoral processes, I can say that free and democratic elections have a low level of participation all over the world’, he said. 

Tigran Avinyan, Civil Contract’s mayoral candidate, also suggested the low turnout was a result of the vote being clean after casting his ballot on Sunday.

‘If we actually used administrative resources, do you think we would not have 12% instead of 5.78% as of 11:00?’, he said.

However, several media organisations and observation missions accused the ruling party of abusing administrative resources, an accusation the party denies.

Vahram Tokmajyan, a representative of the Independent Observer Alliance told local media that several cases were recorded by their mission during the pre-election campaign. 

‘The march in the capital [on 15 September] was a prime example of this, when groups of people from the communities were brought to participate in the march with minibuses. If it is not an administrative resource, what is it?’