The bloc aligned with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has won an overwhelming victory in Yerevan's municipal elections. The vote was the first since Pashinyan came to power this spring vowing to reform Armenia's traditionally corrupt elections, and the results appeared to be both fair and to represent a significant vote of confidence in Pashinyan's rule so far.
According to results with 43 percent of the votes counted, the “My Step” bloc of Pashinyan allies had gained more than 81 percent support in the September 23 election.
With the result, Hayk Marutyan – a popular comedic actor turned civic activist – will become mayor without an additional vote by the city council.
The other parties and alliances to be represented in the new city council will be Prosperous Armenia, the party led by oligarch Gagik Tsarukyan, which gained about 7 percent of the vote; and the “Light” Alliance, another bloc of Pashinyan supporters, with about 5 percent.
The mayor's seat has been vacant since July, when Taron Margaryan – a deeply unpopular member of the formerly ruling Republican Party of Armenia – stepped down after sustained protests and revelations of apparently corrupt behavior.
After preliminary results were announced, Marutyan wrote on his Facebook page: “Thank you for your trust. I will work every day, every hour, every minute and every second to make Yerevan the city of our dreams.”
According to the Central Election Committee, just under 44 percent of eligible voters cast ballots, a slight increase over the last municipal elections, in 2017, when turnout was 41 percent.
The election took place under new laws that criminalized vote-buying, a practice that had been pervasive under the former administration of Serzh Sargsyan. Daniel Ioannisyan, the head of one of the largest election-monitoring groups, Independent Observers, said only minor violations were recorded: “We haven’t received any calls regarding major violations, but we did receive reports of some violations such as bringing people to the polling stations with minivans, or bribe offerings.” Another observer, Levon Barseghyan, said the number of violations were reduced “four or five times” from previous elections. Both Ioannisyan and Barseghyan are outspoken supporters of Pashinyan and the new government.
In the wake of the dominant victory in Yerevan, Pashinyan suggested that the date for parliamentary elections – for which the municipal vote was a sort of dress rehearsal – may be moved up. “It was expected that the elections will be held by next June but we should hold the elections earlier so that we can start the process of restoring the economy as soon as possible,” Pashinyan said the day after the vote.
He argued that the results showed that the shift brought about by what he calls the “Velvet Revolution” is irreversible: “This means that all the claims and discussions that refer to some forces being able to make a counter-revolution are false. It is impossible, and today this was shown by the election results.”
The results appeared to be a serious blow to Prosperous Armenia, which had consistently been the second most powerful force in the country after the Republican Party, and who was thought to be the one party in the country that might challenge Pashinyan now. The party spent the most money on the elections of all the 12 factions that competed, according to data collected by the investigative news website Hetq.
“Categorically rejecting a dangerous approach to dividing the society into black and white, the Prosperous Armenia Party accepts the election results and congratulates the 'My Step' alliance,” the party said in a statement following the results. “I also thank my team for a competent and decent fight. We hope that all the projects promised to Yerevan residents will become a reality.”
Another consistently strong opposition force, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation Dashnaktsutyun, got less than 2 percent of the votes and won't be represented in the city council.
The Republicans did not even field a slate of candidates for the election.
The dominant win nevertheless “poses a challenge” for Pashinyan and his team, wrote Anahit Shirinyan, a Yerevan-based analyst for the think tank Chatham House, on Twitter. “It implies huge responsibility & the need not to disappoint. It is also clear they are going to be mostly unrivaled in the immediate future -- they should keep themselves in check & not allow arrogance of power.”
Shirinyan continued: “The Yerevan vote might've proved that concerns over a counter-revolution are exaggerated, but many uncertainties and risks, both domestic and foreign, remain, so a snap parliamentary vote is expected to take place earlier than initially planned -- by the end of this year.”
Ani Mejlumyan is a journalist based in Yerevan.