Thousands of people attended an election rally and subsequent march through central Yerevan on May 15 organized by the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK). With less than two weeks to go before the May 31 Yerevan municipal-council election, predictions of the outcome differ widely.
The HAK's list of 167 candidates for the city council is headed by former President Levon Ter-Petrossian, who continues to reject as rigged the official results of the February 2008 presidential ballot, in which then-Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian polled 52.82 percent of the vote compared with 21.51 percent for Ter-Petrossian.
In his May 15 campaign address, Ter-Petrossian focused primarily on foreign policy issues, specifically lambasting
Sarkisian's "failed" policy of pursuing rapprochement with Turkey. But he also argued that a HAK election victory would "allow us to create a powerful counterweight to the existing kleptocratic system, thanks to which it would be possible to impose certain restraints on that system" and thus prevent its members from committing "future crimes."
At the same time, he warned Yerevan residents against voting for the candidates proposed by Sarkisian's Republican Party of Armenia (HHK). "Those who sell their votes, those who vote for pro-government candidates, and finally those who display indifference and do not take part in the election will not only deprive their children of the opportunity to live in a normal, civilized, and secure country, but will become accomplices of the malevolent authorities that...have embarked on the path of national treason," he declared.
Since the election campaign began on May 2, two cases have been reported of brutal harassment by police of HAK supporters, and there have been two clashes, on May 12 and 18, between members of Sarkisian's HHK and of its junior partner in the ruling three-party coalition, the Prosperous Armenia (Bargavach Hayastan, BH) party headed by wealthy businessman Gagik Tsarukian. The Armenian Revolutionary Federation--Dashnaktsutiun (HHD) named its own separate candidate for the ballot even before it quit the coalition government last month to protest Sarkisian's policy on Turkey. The various parties have sought to win over residents with extravagant promises of infrastructure improvements and new amenities.
As noted above, predictions of the likely outcome of the ballot differ widely. One polling organization estimates
the HHK's rating at 55 percent, compared with 22 percent for BH and 11 percent for Ter-Petrossian's HAK. A second, by contrast, gives the HAK 37.2 percent, followed by BH with 16.2 percent, the ruling HHK with 14.7 percent, and the HHD with 7.4 percent. Both pollsters predicted a low voter turnout: 36.5 percent and 53.8 percent respectively.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has written
to President Sarkisian to impress upon him the importance of ensuring that the Yerevan vote is free and democratic. The HHD issued a similar appeal in early April.