YEREVAN (Azatutyun.am)—Three weeks after its worse-than-expected performance in municipal elections, the ruling Civil Contract party installed on Tuesday one of its senior members as mayor of Yerevan with the decisive help of a controversial video blogger wanted by Armenian law-enforcement authorities.
The new mayor, Tigran Avinian, has effectively run the Armenian capital since March amid opposition and media allegations that he is illegally using his government levers for electoral purposes. He has repeatedly denied them.
According to official results of the September 17 elections, no political group won a majority of seats in the 65-seat city council empowered to appoint the mayor. Civil Contract garnered 32.5 percent of the vote that earned it 24 seats in the council.
It was trailed by a small party represented by former Mayor Hayk Marutian (19 percent) and the radical opposition bloc Mayr Hayastan (15.4 percent) that won 14 and 12 seats respectively. The Public Voice party of blogger Vartan Ghukasian won 7 seats, giving the three anti-government contenders a narrow majority in the council and thus putting them in a position to jointly appoint the mayor.
However, they failed to agree on a common mayoral candidate primarily because of numerous conditions set by Ghukasian. As a result, Marutian’s party and Mayr Hayastan decided to try to force repeat elections.
Under Armenian law, such a vote must be held if Yerevan’s newly elected Council of Elders fails to make a quorum during its inaugural session. This would have happened had all council members representing Public Voice joined the opposition boycott of the session held on Tuesday.
Ghukasian ruled out a boycott last week, effectively predetermining Avinian’s election. He said he regards as Avinian as a lesser evil than Marutian or other potential opposition mayors.
Avinian’s candidacy was backed by 32 of 37 council members attending the inaugural session. They included the 8 councilors representing the pro-establishment Hanrapetutyun party that predictably cut a power-sharing deal with Civil Contract.
Opposition figures and other critics of the Armenian government say that the party headed by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian does not have a popular mandate to continue governing Yerevan. They not only point to its failure to win a majority in the municipal council but also the fact that only 28 percent of the city’s eligible voters went to the polls on September 17. Some critics also scoff at Civil Contract’s reliance on Ghukasian and his obscure party.
A former police officer nicknamed Dog, Ghukasian emigrated to the United States about a decade ago. He has since attracted large audiences with his hard-hitting and opinionated comments on political developments in Armenia. He has been notorious for using foul language, including against Pashinian and members of his family, in videos posted on YouTube.
Earlier this year, law-enforcement authorities issued an international arrest warrant for Ghukasian and arrested his associates in Armenia on charges of blackmail, extortion and fraud strongly denied by them. It is still not clear whether they have formally demanded his extradition from the U.S.