Armenia's ruling Civil Contract party managed to score another victory on October 10 as the newly elected Yerevan city council chose Tirgan Avinyan to be the capital's mayor.
Avinyan, a former deputy mayor and a close ally of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, won by a margin of 32-5, with 28 members not voting.
The Mother Armenia alliance, led by Andranik Tevanyan and backed by Armenia's parliamentary opposition, and the National Progress party, led by former mayor and second-place mayoral candidate Hayk Marutyan, boycotted the vote.
In the city council election held on September 17, the ruling Civil Contract party came in first but won only 32.5 percent of votes, amid a meager 30 percent turnout. Seats are distributed based on proportional representation, i.e. voters choose a party, which presents a list of candidates, the number-one spot on the list being the mayoral candidate.
The result initially bred hopes that the three opposition groups that won seats - National Progress, and Public Voice parties and the Mother Armenia alliance - could put together a coalition and pick Marutyan to lead the city once again.
Such an alliance almost came together but failed as two of the council members-elect of Public Voice, a party led by fugitive media personality Vardan Ghukasyan, were facing criminal charges and could not participate in the session. The remaining members of Public Voice then decided to take part in the mayoral vote, breaking ranks with the other opposition parties, which boycotted in the hopes of thwarting the vote and triggering another council election.
The Republic party, which also won seats on the council, meanwhile, has long been supportive of Civil Contract. It signed a memorandum of cooperation with the ruling party and supported Avinyan. The party is led by Aram Sargsyan, the brother of late former Defence Minister Vazgen Sargsyan.
The Yerevan municipal election was seen as a test for Prime Minister Pashinyan and his party, whose popularity has declined precipitously since winning the June 2021 snap parliamentary election (which in turn was called because of Armenia's defeat in the Second Karabakh War seven months earlier).
The prime minister said after the council vote that Avinyan's election as mayor was "a win for democracy" and the "revolution" that brought Pashinyan and his party to power in 2018.
Hayk Marutyan, the leading opposition candidate and erstwhile ally of the ruling party, said that Civic Contract should not be allowed to govern with a minority of seats. Marutyan accused the Republic and Public Voice parties of supporting Avinyan directly and indirectly. For now, he is keeping his seat on the council.
The country's two most prominent opposition groups, the former ruling Republican Party and Armenian Revolutionary Federation (which form the Armenia alliance in parliament), did not contest the election.
Some in Armenia had hoped that the election would see the emergence of a third force in the country and break the binary that has characterized Armenian politics for the past few years of the unpopular Civil Contract vs. the discredited Republicans and their allies.
But there was widespread voter apathy and preoccupation with the security situation amid Azerbaijan's military buildup along the border and around Nagorno-Karabakh. Indeed, just two days after the election, Baku launched its lightning offensive that resulted in the region being emptied of its Armenian population.
Election watchdog European Platform for Democratic Elections concluded that the poll was "free and fair, with no major systemic violations" despite low turnout and "the misuse of administrative resources by the ruling party."