The Yerevan City Council has initiated a process to oust Mayor Hayk Marutyan. Marutyan, an erstwhile ally of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, has since left the ruling Civil Contract party and had not endorsed Pashinyan in the summer snap parliamentary election.
In a Facebook post on its official party page, Civil Contract, which holds a majority of seats in the Yerevan municipality, justified the planned ouster of the mayor by citing his exit from the party, non-adherence to the party’s municipal electoral program, and of not fulfilling the ‘mission’ to ‘eliminate systemic corruption from the Yerevan Municipality’.
Earlier this week, the Armenian Times daily newspaper owned by Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s family also published an article alleging that Marutyan had ties with Armenia’s second president and opposition leader Robert Kocharyan.
Both Marutyan and Kocharyan’s teams denied the accusations.
Responding to the Civil Contract Facebook post Marutyan stated that he has no plans of joining any other political party, and stressed that he has never met with Kocharyan, not ‘even accidentally’.
The city council members seeking the mayor’s removal stated that they were going to offer him the chance to resign, and threatened to initiate a vote of no-confidence against him should he refuse.
Marutyan’s spokesperson, meanwhile, stressed that the mayor was not going to resign.
Civil Contract’s candidate for Marutyan’s replacement is current Deputy Mayor Hrachya Sargsyan, who will be elected if he wins the majority of votes in the city council. Should he fail, a snap election will be held to fill the vacancy.
Hayk Marutyan is a former TV comedian who made his debut in politics by joining Pashinyan’s protests during the Armenian revolution in the spring of 2018. That September, the My Step slate — a pro-Pashinyan coalition led by the Civil Contract party — presented Marutyan as their candidate for mayor in the city’s municipal elections and won over 80% of the vote.
Council members from My Step stated on 15 December that they would begin the process of removing Marutyan as mayor.
For the process to begin, it must have the support of at least one-third of 65 council members. As of Wednesday, 40 council member signatures calling for the mayor’s removal had been gathered.
The move also gained the support of the opposition Prosperous Armenia faction in city hall and was opposed by the opposition Bright Armenia faction. Prosperous Armenia holds five seats in the city council, Bright Armenia — three.
Only a handful of My Step members in the city council opposed the move. Council member Grigor Yeritsyan resigned on Friday in protest of the decision to remove the mayor. Vahe Gevorgyan, another My Step council member, also protested the motion, stating that it was ‘not in the best interest of Yerevan’,
According to Civil Contract’s Facebook post, Marutyan left the Party in December of last year. This appears to contradict the party’s earlier statements made in January that denied rumors that Marutyan had left the party.
Since he assumed office, Mayor Marutyan rarely voiced public support for the ruling party and the Prime Minister. The recent schism appears to have been triggered by Marutyan’s refusal to endorse Pashinyan and his party in the June 2021 parliamentary elections.
‘Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan seems particularly intolerant of anything less than total submission’, Richard Giragosian, the Director of the Regional Studies Centre, a Yerevan-based think-tank, told OC Media. ‘It shows a continued intolerance of the government of any alternative political figures.’
Giragosian added that while Marutyan has ‘a degree of popular support’, he still lacks ‘party backing or support within the city council’ that would allow him to stay on as mayor.
Nevertheless, the embattled mayor may become an alternative to Pashinyan for ‘some in Armenia’, especially ‘given growing frustration with recent decisions by the government’.
The next municipal election in Yerevan will be held in autumn 2022.