European observers relieved: First elections of Yerevan’s Mayor broadly in accordance with the European standards

European observers and institutions were relieved this week to commend the Armenian municipal elections, the first elections after last year’s post-electoral state of emergency. The elections were the very first to determine Yerevan’s Mayor’s in the history of Armenia and took place last Sunday, 31 May. The European community was closely monitoring the outcome of the election as part of the democratisation process of Armenia. Gagik Beglarian of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia is designated as the first elected mayor of the capital city.

 

According to the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, which was the only international observer monitoring the elections, there was a noticeable improvement in the way the elections were organised, despite claims of shortcomings by some observers. “The overall organisation of the elections has been broadly carried out in compliance with European standards,” said Nigel Mermagen, the British head of the mission. “In this respect, the election observation mission of the Congress noted a considerable step forward in comparison to the local elections which took place in Yerevan in September 2008”, he added.

The elections took place following the introduction of a new law in December 2008, encouraged by the EU in 2007. Accordingly, the mayor will now be selected by the Yerevan City Council, composed of 65 persons, elected under the party-list system.

Results: The incumbent Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) won 47.4% of the votes, with its leader Gagik Beglarian (pictured) designated as Mayor of Yerevan. The centre-right Party of Prosperous Armenia (BHK; junior coalition partner of the ruling party) received 22.7% of the votes, and the Armenian National Congress (HAK, largest extra-parliamentary opposition party) led by former president Levon Ter-Petrosian came third, with 17.4%. These three parties will take seats in the City Council; no other parties participating in the elections cleared the 7% threshold for single parties.

Opposition leaders have repeatedly criticised the elections, claiming a number of violations including vote buying and intimidation against opposition members. The Armenian National Congress (HAK) has declared it will permanently boycott Yerevan’s newly elected council and has refused to engage in dialogue with the authorities. The Council of Europe’s assessment confirms remaining shortcomings but did not did not call into question the legitimacy of the official vote results.

 

The elections were a crucial test for the internal democratic state of Armenia and the open campaigning in a largely calm and orderly manner which preceded the vote gives rise to hope for more stability and conciliation between the traditionally strongly opposed political camps. European Friends of Armenia also hopes for a growing democratic political culture in Armenia, putting more emphasis on political arguments and programmatic contests than the partly superficial and propaganda style campaigning of the past.

 

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