Throughout Armenia local elections were held, where residents of cities and towns elected their mayor as well as other administrators. For some reason elections are held on Sunday, as opposed to a weekday, perhaps because the government prefers that people cast their votes on a non-work day.
In any case, I had the chance in Vanadzor to briefly witness the elections there as Ariga and my mother-in-law participated in the voting process. I noticed that things in general were very orderly and peaceful, and the entire process was similar to that I have experienced in the US. People are registered by address and groups enter the election hall based on the area in which they live in their district. They are then given ballots and are required to mark a V for the candidates they wish to support. Then before ballots are cast in the appropriate boxes they are presented to officials for them to be stamped valid.
From what Ariga told me the competition between the two candidates was fierce. But she and her mother were giving their support for the incumbent mayor, who despite the odds against him won by a landslide. Armenia Liberty/RFE/RL reports:
In the town of Vanadzor where three candidates contested the mayor’s office incumbent mayor Samvel Darpinian of the Republican Party received 25,017 votes, and his main rival, nonpartisan Gagik Hovsepian received 19,800 votes. Candidate Andranik Ghukasian from the Communist Party gathered an insignificant number of votes – 1,283.
District election commission head Minas Sayadian boasted of how elections in Lori favorable compared to the votes in other regions.
“The elections here were held smoothly, without any incidents, and were positively evaluated by the Central Election Commission as compared to elections held in other places,” he told RFE/RL. “The shortcomings observed in the course of the elections cannot affect the final outcomes.”
Darpinian comes from humble upbringings and is basically the people’s choice as he primarily serves their interest rather than those of big business. Although there naturally is corruption in his administration, it does not stop him from enabling social and public works programs from being enacted. For example, the street on which Ariga’s apartment building is located was in complete disrepair for over 10 years. But when the mayor’s representatives came around to ask people what improvement to their surroundings would earn a vote for him, the majority including Ariga’s mother told the rep that if the mayor repaired the road he wound earn a vote. The next day nearly all the pot holes on the street were filled in with gravel, and it will be a matter of time before fresh asphalt is laid. Most of the main streets throughout the city have already been repaved.
Hovsepian, however, and his family are involved in huge business undertakings, and between him and his brother they reportedly own most of the real estate in Vanadzor as well as some in Moscow. The old Soviet Gugark Hotel on the main square now belongs to them. People were apparently worried that if he was voted into office their interests would have been side tracked. His focus would have been on his own interests as well as those of other wanna-be mega capitalists. Apparently most of the big “mafia” bosses in Vanadzor have killed each other off, so there will be much more to do to improve Vanadzor’s overall state by Darpinian. The next thing to do will be to attract investment in the run-down chemical factories to either rehabilitate them somehow or use them for other manufacturing purposes.
Elections in other places did not go so well, however. Apparently in Ejmiadzin there was a lot of voter intimidation, and supporters of one of the underdog candidates were even kidnapped at one point. The city is controlled by an army general who did everything he could to ensure that his candidate was elected.
Most of the local candidates that won represented the Republican party. But I did not see anything mentioned about the other pro-Kocharian parties, including ARF-Dashnaktsutiun, which probably shows that support for the ARF is still steadily declining—not good for the supposedly most popular political party in the Armenian Diaspora.