YEREVAN (Combined Sources)–Gagik Beglaryan, a key ally of President Serzh Sarkisian, was sworn in as Mayor of Yerevan on Wednesday despite allegations by local and international observers that the May 31 elections in Yerevan were marred by widespread fraud and misconduct.
The Armenian Revolutionary Federation and Armenia’s other opposition groups have rejected the official vote results as fraudulent, alleging widespread vote buying, use of “administrative resources” by the governing parties and voter intimidation by government-connected individuals.
The inauguration ceremony took place at a special session of Yerevan’s newly elected municipal less than a week after the Central Election Commission (CEC) released the final results of the polls. According to them, Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia won 47.4 percent of the vote, giving it 35 of the 65 seats in the Council of Elders.
The Armenian National Congress, which won 13 seats in the council, has refused to participate, effectively cutting the number of seats in the council to 52.
Under Armenian law, the top candidate of a party or bloc winning more than 40 percent of the vote shall automatically become mayor. Beglarian, who headed the Republican Party’s electoral list and has run the Yerevan municipality since March, was thus declared mayor by the municipal council on Monday.
Beglarian accepted a mayoral necklace from one of the councilors and took an oath of office in the presence of President Sarkisian, the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Catholicos Garegin II, and other dignitaries. Putting his right hand on a law on local self-governance in Yerevan enacted last December, he pledged to respect Armenia’s constitution, laws and decisions taken by the Council of Elders.
President Serzh Sarkisian, who spoke at the inauguration, insisted that the elections in Yerevan marked a significant step forward in Armenia’s democratization.
“I wish you to live up to the expectations and hopes of the voters and not let down your supporters and us in the first instance,” Sarkisian said. He noted that Beglarian will have “much fewer levers to make decisions single-handedly” than his presidentially appointed predecessors had.
“But that doesn’t mean that the mayor’s role and share of responsibility will decrease,” continued Sarkisian. “And for that we, Yerevan residents, expect a new work style.”
That, according to the president, means fulfilling “every pledge,” respecting laws, and “loving Yerevan residents with heart and soul.” “I believe that Mr. Beglarian can be such a mayor,” he said.
Sarkisian further stated that the May 31 polls showed that the Armenian authorities “can and must organize good elections in which vicious phenomena will be rooted out one by one.” He said they must therefore ensure that future elections are judged by Armenians and the international community to “greatly or fully correspondent to international standards.”
“The constitutional right to form a government by means of elections must become an undisputed principle in our value system,” he added.
The inauguration and Sarkisian’s remarks come a day after an announcement by the US Millennium Challenge Corporation that it has cut nearly one third of a $235.6 million aid program for Armenia because of the government’s deteriorated human rights record and democratic practices. The $67 million project to reconstruct and repair about 1,000 kilometers of Armenian rural roads, had already been frozen following a harsh government crackdown on the Armenian opposition sparked by the disputed presidential election of February 2008.