YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s bloc was on course to score a landslide victory in municipal elections held in Yerevan on Sunday.
The Central Election Commission (CEC) said early on Monday that with three quarters of the ballots cast counted, the My Step bloc garnered over 80 percent of the vote, more than enough to install its top candidate, Hayk Marutian, as mayor of the Armenian capital.
Businessman Gagik Tsarukian’s Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) came in a distant second with 7 percent, followed by the Luys alliance, which got 5 percent. Both groups have ministerial posts in Pashinian’s cabinet.
The nine other election contenders fared much worse, according to the initial election results.
Under Armenian law, alliances need to win at least 8 percent of the vote in order to be represented in the city council empowered to elect the mayor. But the law also stipulates that at least three political groups must be represented in the council, meaning that Luys will also hold seats there.
Luys’s mayoral candidate, Artak Zeynalian, was quick to visit the My Step headquarters in Yerevan and congratulate Pashinian’s bloc on its convincing victory.
Pashinian actively participated in the local election campaign, portraying the vote as a referendum on his political future. He said that he needs a “strong mandate” to push for the holding of snap parliamentary elections in Armenia in the coming months.
Citing the election outcome, a close Pashinian associate, First Deputy Prime Minister Ararat Mirzoyan, said that the premier has received such a mandate. Mirzoyan declined to speculate about possible election dates.
The CEC put voter turnout at about 43.7 percent, up from almost 41 percent that was recorded by it in the previous municipal elections that were held in May 2017 and controversially won by the then ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK). The HHK, which lost power in May 2018 after weeks of mass protests, chose not to join the latest mayoral race in the Armenian capital.
Pashinian twice called for a high turnout during Sunday’s voting. “I hope that my fellow citizens today will very actively participate in the vote and won’t stay at home because there is no doubt that you are the ones who will decide [the election outcome,]” he said in a live video address aired through Facebook in the morning.
Pashinian made the same appeal late in the afternoon amid signs that Yerevan voters are not turning out in large numbers. He suggested that the turnout is relatively low because voters are no longer bribed and bused to polling stations by any party.
Pashinian also sounded satisfied with the authorities’ conduct of the elections, saying he hopes they will be “exemplary.”
The vote was also marked by an unusually small number of irregularities or violent incidents reported by election contenders, local monitors and media. The HHK was accused of vote rigging and buying throughout its leader Serzh Sarkisian’s decade-long rule.
Armenia’s Investigative Committee said law-enforcement authorities received 25 complaints about alleged violations such as attempts at multiple voting. It pledged to investigate all of them.