What Happens in Yerevan Does not Stay in Yerevan:

What Happens in Yerevan Does not Stay in Yerevan:

Why are the Results of Yerevan Municipal Election Important for the Whole Country

Text: Mikayel Zolyan

In the evening of September 23 a festive atmosphere reigned in Armenia, as supporters of the new government celebrated the results of municipal election in Yerevan. The alliance «My Step», supported by prime-minister Nikol Pashinyan received more than 80 % of the votes. This means that out of the 65 positions in the city council of Yerevan, 57 will be occupied by the representatives of the alliance. It also means that Hayk Marutyan, former comedian turned politician, who was N 1 in the electoral list of «My Step», will become the new mayor of Yerevan. Probably, after the deciding events of the Velvet Revolution, such as the resignation of Serzh Sargsyan on April 23 and the election of Pashinyan as prime-minister on May 8, the Yerevan election was the most important watershed in Armenia՛s political life so far. Obviously, partly, the importance of these elections stems from the fact that Yerevan is Armenia“s capital and the center of the country՛s cultural, economic and social life. However, there was much more at stake at this election.

In fact, this election, the first one held in Armenia since the Velvet Revolution, became both a referendum and a test for the revolution.

It became a referendum, because the results of the election were going to show to what extent has the support for Pashinyan and his «revolutionary» team remained strong, several months after the revolution. It was also a de facto referendum on whether the Armenian public supports the idea of dissolving the parliament and holding extraordinary parlaimentary election, one of the initial demands of the revolution. The answer to this question was especially important, as it seemed that the revolutionary enthusiasm was waning, and other parties, including the former ruling party, the Republicans, were questioning the need for holding new parliamentary election.

At the same time the election was going to be a test of whether clean, free and democratic elections can be held in «New Armenia». And, indeed, the Yerevan city election became the first major election in years, even decades, which was not marred by accusations of fraud, manipulations and violence. There were very several minor episodes reported by observers, but in general the atmosphere was so calm that the journalists and observers jokingly complained that the election was too boring: nobody even got beaten up. All participants of the elections accepted the elections as free and fair, and after the outcome was announced,  congratulated the winner. So, «New Armenia» passed this important test. The election showed that, contrary to some old stereotypes, Armenian state, citizens and political parties are completely capable of holding a clean and fair, even boring election, compatible with international democratic standards. It is clear now that the violations of the past were not a result of some mythical «lack of development» of the Armenian people, who was «unready for democracy», but because of the deliberate manipulations by the authoritarian rulers.

At the same time, the Yerevan election turned into a referendum on the future course of the country. Pashinyan himself campaigned actively during the week before the election and sent a clear message to his supporters. While the issues of city management were important, there was also a bigger issue at stake: Pashinyan and his political force needed a popular mandate to raise the question of dissolving the National Assembly and holding new parliamentary election. Today, the former ruling Republican Party still holds a majority (albeit not a decisive) one in the Armenian parliament and is fiercely opposed to new elections. The party understands that a new election could obliterate the remains of its political influence: aware of the low level of support, the Republicans did not take part in the Yerevan municipal election. The dramatic victory of «My Step» at the Yerevan election will strengthen Pashinyan՛s hand at the coming negotiations regarding the holding of parliamentary election. Other parliamentary parties have also come out in favor of the new election. So, now it only remains to convince the Republicans, and the election outcome will be an important argument.

There remains one argument which Republicans and other forces opposed to a new election are putting forward. The results of the election were called into question by some figures close to the Republican party, citing the fact that the participation was, as they claimed, low. Indeed, the participation stood at 43.66 %. Referring to this figure they are downplaying the impportance of the 81 % received by «My Step» alliance.

However, this level of participation is actually higher than that recorded last year, 41 %, when Republican Party received 71 % of the votes. At the time Republicans were hailing this result as a sign of unequivocal support of the voters, in spite of numerous accusations of vote fraud, particularly voter bribing and use of the administrative resource.

Besides, as some voters have pointed out the voter lists in Yerevan are highly innacurate: many former Yerevantis who are permanently or temporarily based abroad are still on those lists, while others, who have moved from other parts of Armenia, are not registered in the capital. So, it is likely that the real level of participation was much higher than the official 47 %. However, as journalist Levon Barseghyan joked, hinting at the violations during the previous elections, this election was indeed different in one respect: unlike the previous, the deceased decided not take part in it.