Meet the Candidates: YEREVAN ELECTIONS

By Mark Dovich

Hundreds of thousands of Yerevan residents will head to the polls later this month for the first time in five years to elect a new mayor and city council.

Here’s what you need to know about the men and women vying to lead the Armenian capital.

Tigran Avinyan: The continuity candidate?

Tigran Avinyan meets with Yerevan residents in the city’s Erebuni district, Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023. (Photolure/Stepan Poghosyan)

If interim Mayor Tigran Avinyan gets his way, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s Civil Contract party will extend its half-decade hold on power in Yerevan.

A close Pashinyan ally, Avinyan has served as Yerevan’s deputy mayor since last September and as the city’s acting mayor since March, when then-Mayor Hrachya Sargsyan resigned. Sargsyan’s resignation was widely seen as an effort to boost Avinyan’s chances in the run-up to this month’s vote.

Prior to working at city hall, Avinyan served as Pashinyan’s deputy prime minister and before that played an active role in the 2018 demonstrations that catapulted Pashinyan to power.

Civil Contact has pledged to address Yerevan’s chronic transport issues by building new roads, updating the city’s aging bus fleet, and adding long-awaited stations to the metro. The party has also said it plans to improve Yerevan’s inefficient waste management by expanding recycling programs, building new landfills, and replacing outdated utility systems.

Last month, a coalition of leading civil society organizations released a joint report accusing Avinyan of abusing administrative resources to gain an unfair advantage in the elections, including favorable coverage on public media. He has rejected those charges.

Hayk Marutyan: A comeback in the making?

Hayk Marutyan holds a campaign rally in Yerevan’s Nor Nork district, Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023. (Photolure/Hayk Baghdasaryan)

Announcing his candidacy last month on Facebook after weeks of swirling speculation, former Mayor Hayk Marutyan launched what he wants to be one of the biggest comebacks in Armenian political history.

Marutyan led Yerevan from 2018 to 2021, when he was ousted from his post in a no-confidence vote put forward by Civil Contract that was widely seen as politically motivated.

It was a stunning turn of events for Marutyan, who was once viewed as one of Pashinyan’s closest political allies, but broke with the prime minister after Armenia’s disastrous defeat to Azerbaijan in the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war.

Marutyan was a regular fixture at the 2018 rallies, and his landslide victory later that year in Yerevan’s city council elections presaged Pashinyan’s sweep of parliament fewer than three months later.

Marutyan is now running with National Progress, a minor party that currently has no seats on Yerevan’s city council. With the vote just weeks away, the party has not released a platform.

Before entering politics, Marutyan enjoyed a successful and profitable career in entertainment as one of Armenia’s leading comedic actors.

Marutyan is far and away the wealthiest candidate in the race, according to a CivilNet review of the candidates’ mandatory asset and income declarations. He disclosed nearly $672,000 in assets and income, including two nearly dozen pieces of real estate in Armenia, Austria, and the Czech Republic.

A testament to his popularity, Marutyan put on a one-man stand-up show earlier this year — pointedly titled The Mayor — that sold out within hours and crashed ticket sites. A video of the performance posted online two weeks ago has already garnered more than a million views.

Mane Tandilyan: The wildcard candidate?

Mane Tandilyan speaks with CivilNet’s Arshaluys Mghdesyan about her mayoral bid, Saturday, Aug. 19, 2023 (CivilNet/Levon Arshakyan)

Like Marutyan, Mane Tandilyan was once allied with Pashinyan, before breaking with the prime minister and ultimately joining Country for Living, an upstart party linked Ruben Vardanyan, the billionaire businessman and philanthropist. Last year, Vardanyan briefly served as Nagorno-Karabakh’s state minister, a post akin to prime minister.

Pashinyan tapped Tandilyan as his first minister of labor and social affairs, but the two officials almost immediately began feuding over an unpopular pension reform plan. After less than a year in office, Tandilyan resigned.

Following the 2020 war, Tandilyan moved to Nagorno-Karabakh, where she was quickly appointed minister of labor, social, and migration affairs. She served in that role for less than a year, again resigning.

Country for Living’s platform envisages updating Yerevan’s urban planning standards, improving the accessibility of public services, modernizing waste management systems, and expanding public transport options.

In addition, Tandilyan has pledged to rebuild Yerevan’s Youth Palace, a Soviet-era city landmark that was demolished in 2006, and revive the city’s cable car line, which was shuttered in 2004 after a deadly accident killed four people. Both proposals have attracted widespread attention in the run-up to the vote.

Tandilyan, who worked in Armenia’s burgeoning tech sector before entering politics, is one of only two women in the running, out of a total of 14 candidates. Armenia has long struggled with low levels of representation for women in government, particularly in high-ranking roles.

Who else is in the race?

While Avinyan, Marutyan, and Tandilyan are generally seen as the frontrunners, they are joined by a wide field of 11 other candidates.

They range from Artak Zeynalyan, Pashinyan’s first justice minister, to Artak Galstyan, a close associate of Vardan Ghukasyan, a popular Armenian blogger more widely known by the nickname Dog. Other candidates include Viktor Mnatsakanyan, who was in charge of Yerevan’s Kentron district from 2018 to 2019, and Andranik Tevanyan, formerly an opposition lawmaker in Armenia’s parliament.

Where is the national opposition?

Neither of Armenia’s main opposition groups have joined the race.

The I Have Honor alliance, led by former President Serzh Sargsyan, said it will not participate in the election or endorse any candidate, instead choosing to focus on “overcoming the disastrous security situation around Armenia and Artsakh,” bloc leader Hayk Mamijanyan said last month.

For its part, the Armenia alliance, linked to former President Robert Kocharyan, endorsed Tevanyan’s mayoral bid while declining to field its own candidate. Unlike most other candidates, Tevanyan has centered his campaign around “restoring Armenia’s and Artsakh’s security environment,” rather than local issues facing Yerevan residents.

Also Read: Yerevan Elections: EXPLAINER

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