YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Yerevan’s incumbent Mayor Taron Markarian and his ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) were on course to score a comfortable victory in Sunday’s municipal elections marked by low turnout and opposition allegations of vote buying.

The HHK gained over 71 percent of the vote, according to the preliminary vote results published by the Central Electoral Commission (CEC), leaving its two opposition rivals – the Yelk (Way Out) alliance led by Nikol Pashinian and the Yerkir Tsirani party led by Zaruhi Postanjian – distant second and third, with 21 and 8 percent of the vote, respectively.

The CEC put the voter turnout at almost 41 percent. A considerably larger number of Yerevan residents voted in Armenia’s parliamentary elections held on April 2 and also won by the HHK.

Several other major parties and blocs chose not to join the mayoral race in the capital for various reasons. Those included businessman Gagik Tsarukian’s alliance, which finished second in the legislative polls.

“The elections were competitive and democratic, and according to the preliminary results, the HHK team has achieved a convincing victory,” the party’s spokesman and campaign manager, Eduard Sharmazanov, told a late-night news conference.

Yelk did not immediately react to the early vote returns. Its mayoral candidate, Nikol Pashinian, implied after casting a ballot early in the afternoon that the election outcome will be strongly affected by vote bribes handed out by the HHK.

Yerkir Tsirani alleged vote buying and other serious irregularities throughout the day. “This has not been an election,” its mayoral candidate, Zaruhi Postanjian, charged two hours before the closure of the polls.

The ruling party believes the Sunday elections were a “serious step forward” as compared to the previous municipal vote held in the capital four years ago.

Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) on Monday, HHK spokesman Sharmazanov again denied that the ruling party distributed cash among voters prior to the vote.

Sharmazanov went as far as to claim that the allegations made by the oppositionists only had an adverse effect on themselves, while making no harm to the HHK.

“The HHK registered an impressive victory due to Taron Markarian’s work, his professionalism, his realistic program. On the other hand, our political opponents lacked any competitive program of municipal management,” the HHK spokesman stressed.

Representatives of the observation groups monitoring the elections, however, insisted on Monday that the May 14 vote was not based on the free expression of will of the voters.

Artur Sakunts, a leading Armenian human rights activist, claimed that the elections were “10 steps forward in terms of non-democratic standards.” He insisted that based on the results of the observations the elections were not free either at the polling stations or outside them.

“For yet another time the very institution of elections in Armenia has been discredited. And the authorities have again sent a message to the public that it cannot achieve any changes through elections,” he said.

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