Gyumri Mayor Samvel Balasanian has publicly backed President Serzh Sarkisian’s reelection bid despite the decision by his Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) not to nominate or endorse any presidential candidates.
“I want to make it clear to you that I will be supporting the president’s candidacy,” Balasanian told a news conference in Armenia’s second city on Monday.
He said Sarkisian “has done a lot” for Gyumri in the last five years, an apparent reference to large-scale housing construction that has been financed by the Armenian government in a city still reeling from the catastrophic 1988 earthquake. “I place the interests of our city above political and partisan interests,” added the mayor, who is also a deputy chairman of the BHK.
BHK leader Gagik Tsarukian pulled his party out of Sarkisian’s governing coalition last year and was widely expected to run for president. The BHK announced last month, however, that it will not take part in the February 18 election.
BHK spokesman Tigran Urikhanian on Tuesday denied any contradiction between that move and Balasanian’s endorsement of the incumbent president. “Mr. Balasanian made a personal decision and did not act as a party figure,” Urikhanian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “Nobody can infringe on free expression of citizens’ will,” he said.
Stepan Markarian, a BHK lawmaker, insisted that members of Tsarukian’s party are free to decide whom to support in the presidential ballot. “The decision of our party was not an order not to support anyone or not to vote in the elections,” he said.
Balasanian’s move was described as “logical” by Eduard Sharmazanov, the spokesman for Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK). Sharmazanov said that any Gyumri mayor would support the president’s reelection because of the government-funded construction work.
Sharmazanov denied that the endorsement was a payback for the HHK’s tacit support for Balasanian’s election as Gyumri mayor last September. “The Republican Party does not engage in political trading,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
The BHK, which has the second largest faction in parliament, also controls the municipal administrations of the southeastern town of Sisian and Abovian, a town 15 kilometers north of Yerevan. Sisian’s Mayor Aghasi Hakobjanian said on Tuesday that he is supporting one of the presidential candidates but refused to name him.
Abovian’s Mayor Karapet Guloyan could not be reached for comment. Guloyan is Tsarukian’s son-in-law.
Galust Sahakian, another senior HHK figure, said last week that many BHK members will be campaigning for Sarkisian’s victory in the upcoming vote.