Yerevan’s mayor, Hrachya Sargsian, stepped down on Friday after only 15 months in office.
Sargsian gave no clear reason for his resignation when he announced it at a meeting with other senior officials from the municipal administration.
“Now that the [next] elections of the city council are approaching and there is quite good cooperation between the mayor’s office and the government I want to announce my resignation,” he said, adding that he will remain part of Armenia’s ruling “political team.”
The elections of a new municipal council empowered to appoint the mayor are due to be held September. It was not immediately clear whether Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s Civil Contract party, which controls the current council, engineered Sargsian’s resignation to bring forward the vote.
The ruling party announced a year ago that former Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinian will be its mayoral candidate in 2023. Avinian was appointed as one of the city’s five deputy mayors in September.
The Armenian press has been rife with speculation lately that Avinian has low approval ratings and is overshadowed by Sargsian despite leading most official ceremonies organized by the municipality.
Isabella Abgarian, an independent member of the city council, said that the mayor’s resignation is part of government efforts to boost Avinian’s chances in the municipal elections.
“I see only one explanation,” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service. “They want to make sure that the city is put under the exclusive control of Tigran Avinian ahead of these elections.”
Abgarian said that despite being installed by the country’s leadership Sargsian followed “his own line” and relied on “his own people” during his tenure.
In his farewell remarks, Sargsian said that he supports Avinian’s mayoral bid and hopes that Pashinian’s party will win the upcoming polls. But he also acknowledged differences within the municipal administration.
The current Yerevan council appointed Sargsian as mayor in December 2021 right after ousting his predecessor Hayk Marutian, who fell out with Pashinian following the 2020 war in Nagorno-Karabakh. Marutian, who is a former TV comedian, has since been coy about his participation in the 2023 polls.
None of Armenia’s major opposition groups have fielded mayoral candidates so far.