Yerevan to elect a city council for the first time
Voting is by party list
Council will choose mayor
Published: Friday February 27, 2009
Yerevan - Armenia's capital city will hold its first election for city council on May 31. The city council, in turn, will elect a mayor. Until now, the city's 12 constituent communities elected their leaders, whereas the city as a whole had a mayor appointed by the president.
Under the new law, the city will have a parliamentary-style government. A 65-member city council will be elected by citywide party lists. The mayor will be elected from among council members.
The law allowed the government to call elections anytime between April 1 and December 6 of this year. The government chose the May 31 date. Tatev Ohanian, the press secretary of the Central Electoral Commission, told the Armenian Reporter that the commission has confirmed the schedule and all other organizational details for conducting the election. They will take party lists between April 26 and May 1. Campaigning will be authorized from May 2 through midnight May 24.
Political forces have not yet chosen sides
About a third of Armenia's population resides in Yerevan, making the election a significant test for political forces in the country.
The governing Republican Party of Armenia, led by President Serge Sargsian, is the only force openly discussing candidates for mayor's post. The party's press secretary, Edward Sharmazanov, said the Yerevan city council elections are still being discussed within the party, and they will inform the public of their decision once it has been taken. His colleague Galust Sahakian, head of the party's faction in parliament, however, said the party had already agreed upon two possible candidates for the post of mayor: incumbent Mayor Yervand Zakharian and Gagik Beglarian, who is currently head of the city's Center community.
Gagik Tsarukian's Prosperous Armenia Party, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, and Artur Baghdasarian's Country of Laws party, both members of the national governing coalition, have not announced their plans yet. They may join their coalition partners to field a joint party list or they may run separately. Under the law, a party must win at least 7 percent of the vote to win any seats in the council.
"The Armenian Revolutionary Federation has decided to participate in these elections," said Artyusha Shahbazian, secretary of the ARF's political faction in the National Assembly. "Issues connected with the format of our participation are currently being discussed. We will decide if we are going into these elections independently or not. It is possible that we will go independently and we are considering our party's list. However, I repeat, as of today we have not reached a final decision."
The political council of the Heritage Party, the only opposition party in parliament, decided to "authorize the party administration to decide the suitability of the party's participation in the upcoming Yerevan city elections."
The Armenian National Congress, led by former president Levon Ter-Petrossian, has not yet decided whether it will participate. Press secretary Arman Musinian told the Armenian Reporter that the congress will turn to the matter of the Yerevan election only after March 1. Currently there is only one issue on the congress's agenda and that is the rally planned for March 1, he said.
Constitutional amendments adopted in 2005 led to the new form of city administration. Until now, Yerevan has had the status of a province. Like provincial governors, the mayor has been appointed by the president. The cities 12 constituent districts had the status of communities. Like communities, they have been administered by an elected community head and council.
Hrayr Tovmasian is co-author of the new law, enacted in parliament in 2008 to implement the constitutional amendment on local self-government in Yerevan. "The law is based on the parliamentary government model, which has been adapted to the local government system," he told the Reporter. The party with the majority of seats in the city council will select their choice of mayor, he explained. "Similar models are used in many countries around the world also for electing the mayor."
The council and the mayor will be elected to four-year terms. Under the electoral code, any individual - citizen of Armenia or not - who is 21 years of age and has been a registered resident of Yerevan for the past three years has the right to vote and the right to be elected. The mayor must be over 30 years old, a citizen of Armenia, a member of the council, and not also a citizen of another country.
Under the law, the existing 12 districts of Yerevan will no longer have an elected district council. Nor will they elect representatives to the city council - as elections are by citywide list only. "There was the danger that we would take the present communities with their specific issues and throw them all into one pot," Mr. Tovmasian acknowledged. In place of those districts, 12 administrative districts will be created. "They are not self-governing communities. They will not have councils, budgets, and the authority to implement local self-government. The heads of the administrative regions will be appointed and dismissed by the mayor and are, in essence, the representatives of the mayor in those districts. They act on behalf of the mayor, who is responsible for their activities. The purpose of this approach was to ensure that authorities are not ‘distanced' from the people," Mr. Tovmasian said.