Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s party on Friday defended the abundance of former political allies of Armenia’s previous leadership among its candidates running in upcoming local elections.
Voters in 36 communities across the country will go to the polls on Sunday to elect, on a party-list basis, their new mayors and local councils. Most of those communities were recently enlarged.
The ruling Civil Contract party has fielded or endorsed candidates in all of those communities. In several of them, its lists of candidates are topped by former members of former President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK).
They include Sargis Muradian, the incumbent mayor of Sevan, a town 55 kilometers north of Yerevan. In another community encompassing the resort town of Jermuk, the ruling party’s mayoral candidate is a son of Ashot Arsenian, a wealthy businessman who has long had close ties with Sarkisian.
A larger number of HHK defectors are running for local councils on the Civil Contract ticket in these and other municipalities.
The strong presence of such individuals on the ruling party’s electoral slates has raised eyebrows in Armenia. Critics say that it is at odds with Pashinian’s regular characterizations of the country’s former rulers as corrupt individuals who did not care about ordinary people and their problems.
The prime minister came to power in 2018 on the back of mass protests sparked by Sarkisian’s attempt to prolong his decade-long rule.
Vahagn Aleksanian, a pro-government lawmaker who was until recently Civil Contract’s spokesman, insisted that there is nothing wrong with the large number of the former regime’s loyalists among the Pashinian-led party’s election candidates.
Aleksanian, who himself used to be affiliated with another party, said that many of these individuals claimed to have been forced to join the former ruling HHK and were therefore “given a chance” to “transform” themselves by the current government. He refused to name any of them.
Gegham Manukian, a senior member of the opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), ridiculed Pashinian’s reliance on the defectors.
“The Armenian public must be aware that the former rulers are on the electoral offensive,” Manukian said tartly. “But the former rulers are now acting on the ticket of Nikol Pashinian’s Civil Contract.”
Dashnaktsutyun is part of the main opposition Hayastan alliance led by former President Robert Kocharian. It has fielded candidates in 20 of the 36 communities. Other opposition parties are participating in fewer local races.
Pashinian’s party suffered several serious setbacks in local elections held elsewhere in Armenia in October and November. It was effectively defeated in the country’s second largest city of Gyumri and also failed to install its members as mayors of the three main communities of Syunik province.