YEREVAN -- Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s bloc has scored a landslide victory in municipal elections in the capital, Yerevan, in the first major test of the new leader’s political strength, according to final preliminary results.
The Central Election Commission (CEC) said on September 24 that Pashinian’s My Step bloc received 81 percent of the votes, far more than enough to have its top candidate, popular actor and producer Hayk Marutian, installed as mayor of Yerevan.
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, the CEC said. Both groups have ministerial posts in Pashinian’s cabinet.
The nine other contenders in the September 23 vote, including the parliamentary Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), fared much worse.
Under Armenian law, alliances need to win at least 8 percent of the vote to be represented in the city council. But the law also stipulates that at least three political groups must be represented in the council, meaning that Luys will also hold seats.
The CEC put voter turnout at about 43.7 percent, up from the almost 41 percent that was recorded in the previous municipal elections in May 2017, controversially won by the former ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK). The party, which lost power in May, chose not to contest the latest mayoral race.
An opposition lawmaker, Pashinian became prime minister in May after leading a wave of antigovernment protests. He still faces a parliament that consists mainly of members of the HHK.
Pashinian actively participated in the local election campaign, portraying the vote in Yerevan, where nearly half of the country's population lives, as a referendum on his political future. He said he needed 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 Mirzoian, said that the premier has received such a mandate. Mirzoian declined to speculate about possible election dates.
“A few months after the revolution and the change of government, people once again confirmed their will to...build a new Armenia," Mirzoian said.
"There is no doubt that early elections to the National Assembly must take place and they are an important condition for the final victory of the revolution,” he added.
In a statement, the BHK said it accepted the results of the elections and congratulated the My Step alliance for its election victory.
Justice Minister Artak Zeynalian of the Luys alliance visited the electoral headquarters of My Step overnight to offer his congratulations to the winner.
Pashinian, whose popularity is based on his anticorruption and economic reform stance, twice called for a high turnout during 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 on Facebook on the morning of election day.
Pashinian made the same appeal late in the afternoon amid signs that Yerevan voters were not turning out in large numbers. He suggested that the turnout was 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 marked by an unusually small number of irregularities or violent incidents reported by election contenders, local monitors, and media.
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.
Armenia's opposition has for years complained that elections were rigged to favor the ruling party.