Pashinian’s Party Wins, Loses Local Elections

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s Civil Contract party won mayoral elections in at least two major Armenian towns but was defeated in another at the weekend.

Voters in nearly 50 communities across Armenia went to the polls on Sunday to elect their chief executives or local councils. As was the case in the September 23 municipal elections in Yerevan, the polls were marked by a lack of serious fraud reported by election candidates, observers and media.

In the largest of those communities — the towns of Armavir, Echmiadzin, Hrazdan and Kapan — the elections were held because their former mayors resigned shortly after Pashinian swept to power in May in what is known as a democratic “velvet revolution.” They were affiliated or linked with former President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK).

In Echmiadzin, official vote results gave victory to Civil Contract’s Diana Gasparian, the acting mayor appointed by Pashinian’s government in June. Gasparian, 30, was challenged by 11 other contenders. She is the first female head of an Armenian urban community elected since the early 1990s.

Another Civil Contract candidate, Davit Khudatian, prevailed in the mayoral race in Armavir. The town located about 50 kilometers west of Yerevan is the administrative center of the Armavir province encompassing Echmiadzin.

The snap election in another provincial capital, Hrazdan, was won by a 25-year-old son of Sasun Mikaelian, a prominent Hrazdan-based politician and a leading member of Civil Contract. The party leadership pointedly declined to back Sevak Mikaelian for still unclear reasons, however.

Pashinian’s party suffered a setback in Kapan, the capital of the southeastern Syunik province bordering Iran. Its candidate, Narek Babayan, was defeated by a non-partisan challenger.

Pashinian personally campaigned for Babayan, holding a rally in Kapan on Friday.

The Armenian prime minister put a brave face on the setback on Monday. While saying that he is “very sorry” for Babayan’s defeat, he portrayed the election outcome as a triumph of democracy.

“It’s an unprecedented phenomenon [for Armenia] when the country’s prime minister backs a candidate and that candidate doesn’t win an election. This is the greatest victory for democracy in the history of the Third [Armenian] Republic,” Pashinian declared in a trademark video address to the nation aired on Facebook.

“Citizens made a decision and the government didn’t even attempt to place the citizens’ choice into the bounds of its wishes. Dear people, this is what we did the revolution for,” he said.

The former ruling HHK had for years swept most local elections in Armenia, heavily relying on its administrative and financial resources. Sarkisian’s party has essentially refrained from contesting such polls since losing power.

According to Pashinian, Civil Contract nominated or endorsed candidates in 15 communities and only two of them lost in Sunday’s elections.