YEREVAN -- A prominent Armenian opposition figure who spent more than three years in prison on controversial charges has decided to run for mayor of the country's fifth-largest city, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.
Sasun Mikaelian, of the main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), will be the only challenger of Hrazdan Mayor Aram Danielian in the February 12 election.
Danielian belongs to President Serzh Sarkisian's Republican Party (HHK).
The contest will be a major test for both political forces ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for May.
A famous veteran of the war in the breakaway Azerbaijani region of Nagorno-Karabakh, Mikaelian served as Hrazdan mayor in the 1990s before being elected to the Armenian parliament.
He was stripped of his parliament seat in 2009 after being sentenced to eight years in prison on charges of organizing the March 2008 postelection violence in Yerevan.
Mikaelian was among more than 100 supporters of HAK leader Levon Ter-Petrossian arrested in the wake of the deadly unrest on what they consider trumped-up and politically motivated charges.
Along with several other Ter-Petrossian loyalists remaining in jail, he was set free in May in accordance with a general amnesty declared by the authorities.
Fair And Free Election Pledge
The ruling HHK pledged on January 10 to do its best to ensure that the Hrazdan election is free and fair.
"For us the top priority is not to win the elections at any cost but to ensure their transparency and legitimacy," the party's chief spokesman, Eduard Sharmazanov, told RFE/RL. "We will do everything to ensure a fair contest."
"Everything will be done to make the upcoming elections of the Hrazdan mayor fair and transparent," said Kovalenko Shahgaldian, the HHK-affiliated governor of Kotayk Province, of which Hrazdan is the capital.
Mikaelian dismissed these pledges as he spoke to RFE/RL in Hrazdan, an industrial city of some 53,000 about 45 kilometers north of Yerevan. He claimed that the regional administration is already pressuring local government officials and public-sector employees to contribute to Danielian's reelection.
"If they try to stuff ballots, organize open voting, 'carousel' [voting], and other violations...there will be very severe consequences," warned Mikaelian. "I have entered the fray for fair elections."
Shahgaldian insisted that the HHK will not use its government levers or buy votes to win the election. The governor said Danielian will only "help local residents in need." He did not elaborate on that assistance.
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