Armenia: Prominent government opponent ejected from Yerevan city council

Feb 9 2024
Ani Avetisyan Feb 9, 2024

Hayk Marutyan, the ex-mayor of Yerevan who was defeated in his bid to return to that post in last September's city council election, was ousted from his city council seat on February 5. 

Later that day he announced his intent to seek the premiership in the next parliamentary election. 

“If there are no snap elections, we will participate in the 2026 parliamentary elections. And since I will be the head of the party, I will naturally be a candidate," Marutyan said. The ex-mayor currently leads a small party called National Progress but has mooted the possibility of starting another one. 

Marutyan and two of his allies were ejected from the council on the basis of a regulation that allows for the removal of members who fail to show up for more than half of votes or sessions. The removal proceedings were initiated by the ruling Civil Contract party, which holds a plurality of seats on the council. Marutyan and his allies have boycotted all 42 votes held by the current convocation of the council. They demand the resignation of incumbent member and Civil Contract member Tigran Avinyan, who they say was elected unfairly. 

Marutyan called the expulsion "politically motivated" and claimed that he should not be deprived of his seat as he is performing his duties outside of the sessions. 

Marutyan’s career in politics was initiated and backed by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, who founded Civil Contract. 

Marutyan won election to the council and the mayoralty (the council chooses the mayor from among its members) by a landslide in December 2018. At the time he was a well-known comedian with no political experience. After his election, he became one of the ruling team's most prominent and popular faces.

He fell out with Pashinyan and the ruling party in late 2020, after Armenia's defeat to Azerbaijan in the Second Karabakh War. 

Ruling party council members removed him a year later, after he delivered a litany of accusations against the ruling elite, including misappropriating funds and issuing illegal construction permits.

After he left office, he returned to comedy, performing a stand-up routine titled "The Mayor" about his experience in power and his problems with the ruling team. 

He launched his return to politics ahead of last September's council election. For a while during the campaign, he seemed to pose a serious challenge to Civil Contract's domination of top elected posts in the country and was clearly seen as a threat by the ruling party.

Now, in his quest to become premier, he could have the advantage of being seen as a "third force" in Armenian politics – an alternative to both the government of Prime Minister Pashinyan and the discredited mainstream opposition. The authorities are tainted by the loss of Nagorno-Karabakh and their appeasement strategy towards Azerbaijan while the largest opposition parties carry the stink of corruption from when many of its leading figures were in power (1998-2018).