Major opposition parties sit out Yerevan election

By Ani Avetisyan

In two weeks, the Armenian capital will witness another crucial election as Yerevan residents will go to the polls to elect a new city council, which will consequently elect the city’s new mayor.

The 17 September election is expected to be between the two leading candidates: Tigran Avinyan, the de facto Mayor of Yerevan from the ruling Civil Contract Party, and Hayk Marutyan, the former Yerevan Mayor and former close ally of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.

The elections are expected to be competitive and highly crucial for the country’s ruling Civil Contract party. They will be indicative for understanding the level of trust in both the party and Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. At the same time, the elections in the midst of the blockade of Nagorno-Karabakh and other national security issues highlight the priorities of major opposition parties in the country’s domestic affairs.

Prominent opposition parties missing in action

With the Armenian political sphere not having many established and renowned parties, the absence of the two biggest parties, the former ruling Republican Party and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), left the competition between minor or recently established parties and Civil Contract.

After witnessing the competitive parliamentary elections in 2021 with the participation of the majority of leading Armenian parties, the Yerevan elections are seen as a race between the leading candidates, while important issues and partyprograms remain in the background.

The biggest opposition bloc in the Armenian parliament, the Armenia Alliance — consisting of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation and independent deputies – is not running for seats in the council, but announced its support for the Mother Armenia bloc led by former parliament deputy from Armenia Alliance Andranik Tevanyan.

In turn, the ARF explained that its decision to not participate was due to inability to come to an agreement to run in a joint bloc against the ruling party.

The former Ruling Republican Party, the third force in the country’s parliament, stated that it tends to focus its efforts on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, security.

Both ARF and the Republican Party are leading anti-government protests, demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. Yet, for these parties, participation in local elections is not a priority.

‘Crucial vote’

The upcoming elections are seen as a test of the popularity of the Civil Contract Party, with its candidate Tigran Avinyan facing a tough challenge from Hayk Marutyan, the former mayor of Yerevan and a former ally of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.

Marutyan, a famous comedian, entered politics in 2018 and was nominated as mayor the same year by Nikol Pashinyan’s Civil Contract. He was ousted three years later following a fallout with PM Pashinyan and his team.

The ruling Civil Contract party stands tall in the list of thirteen parties and one political bloc, with notable contenders such as Mane Tandilyan’s Country of Living, linked to the Russian-Armenian billionaire and philanthropist Ruben Vardanyan, Edmon Marukyan’s Bright Armenia party, and Aram Sargsyan’s Republic party..

Proportional elections with a “majoritarian” campaign

The elections in Yerevan’s city council follow a proportional system where voters cast their ballots for parties, with seats distributed proportionally among the 65 available. The party that secures the majority of votes gains the upper hand in electing the mayor.

While the proportional system aims to minimize the impact of individual fame, connections, or candidates’ backgrounds, the Yerevan election stage is currently dominated by lesser-known parties. Prominent candidates steal the spotlight thanks to their strong online and media presence, shadowing the parties’ names in the race.

In this high-stakes campaign, leading mayoral candidates actively use their personal leverages. Notably, Hayk Marutyan, who enjoyed public support during his previous tenure after securing the majority of votes in 2018, maintains a certain distance from the party he is running with. The National Progress party emerged as a political initiative during the 2015 Electric Yerevan protests against electricity rate hikes, registered as a party in 2018, but largely faded from public attention.

Marutyan’s core team is composed of his former staff and the city council members who supported him during the disagreements with the ruling party, as well as a few members of the National Progress Party.

Prior to the official kickoff of the election campaign, Hayk Marutyan made his stand-up performance called The Mayor publicly available. The comedy show was based on the former actor’s personal experience as mayor, full of criticism of the ruling government.

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