Gagik Beglaryan: “Through an elected mayor, citizens become engaged in decision-making”
Interview – 18.03.2010
For years, the Congress has been calling on the governments in South Caucasus to begin electing mayors of their capital cities. In May 2009, the capital of Armenia elected its mayor for the first time. On 18 March 2010, Mayor of Yerevan Gagik Beglaryan shared his experience with the Congress’ Chamber of Local Authorities, during a debate on the status of capital cities in South Caucasus. Electing a mayor engages the local population in decision-making, and makes the city government more sensitive to the concerns of citizens, he says in an interview.
Question: You are the first mayor of Yerevan to have been elected. Almost one year since your election in May 2009, how would you evaluate your experience?
Gagik Beglaryan: Since 2002, I had been directly elected three times as the Head of the “Kentron” (Centre) District (Municipality) of Yerevan. During those years, we were always aware of the limitations caused by the fragmentation of Yerevan.
Since the election, Yerevan has gained a new momentum. The Yerevan City Council has already adopted a Four-Year Development Program and approved the budget. As local government, we share the future vision of the city’s residents and possess the three tools needed for development: competences, autonomous decision-making authority and a budget.
We are still in a transition phase, and one year is a short period. However, we can already report serious progress, which is encouraging.
Question: Capital cities are hosts to national governments that sometimes seek to exercise direct control over the municipal situation. What impact does it have on the work of the elected mayor?
Gagik Beglaryan: Central government representatives in some countries (especially post-Soviet) unjustifiably view local government as the local “extension” of the central executive power.
Since 1996, when the current system of local self-government was implemented in Armenia, we have largely succeeded in overcoming the old way of thinking. In our country, mayors are elected by direct vote, and this is an institutional cornerstone of the autonomy of local governments.
During the last 14 years, local democracy in Armenia has withstood many challenges and, in collaboration with the Council of Europe, undergone major constitutional and legislative reform that has fortified the local government autonomy and streamlined the relationship between the local and central governments.
We went much further by adopting the Law on the City of Yerevan. The vast majority of the Yerevan Mayor’s competences are mandatory. The delegated competences are less than a handful. Hence, the central government does not have the possibility to intervene directly with the City’s affairs. Its powers are limited to general legal control and cooperation.
Question: Why, in your view, do capital cities need a special status, and how can the Council of Europe Congress help in defining such a status?
Gagik Beglaryan: A capital city is usually one of the largest, if not the largest city in a country. Yerevan is a case in point: it is home to one third of Armenia’s population.
Naturally, the capital city is the heart of the country’s economic and political life. Central and local bodies interact on a daily basis here. For this and a number of other reasons, capital cities need a special legal status defining the peculiarities of local government in the capital city. The powers and electoral system of local government in Yerevan is different from those in other cities of Armenia.
Since 2003, the Council of Europe Congress supported the process of defining the special status of Yerevan. We have cooperated in an extensive process of constitutional and legislative reform. As a result, a sound solution for the status was found.
Life progresses and change takes place in all the European capitals. The Congress is the forum for regular discussion of issues related to the status of capital cities and the development of shared perspectives. Moreover, the Congress will continue to observe the status of capital cities in light of the principles enshrined in the European Charter of Local Self-Government.
Question: What is the “upside” for a capital city to have an elected mayor? Should other capital cities in South Caucasus follow the example of Yerevan?
Gagik Beglaryan: Clearly, there are upsides of having an elected mayor for a capital city, as well as any other city: through an elected mayor, the population participates in solving local problems, citizens become engaged in the decision-making process, the city government is sensitive to the concerns of citizens, and, most importantly, an elected mayor is accountable before the city’s population.
Furthermore, for an important part of the country, which hosts the bulk of the cultural, political, and economic elite, an elected mayor represents a core institution of democracy.
The overall European practice stands a clear case in favour of elected capital city authorities. In the South Caucasus, Armenia and Georgia adopted this approach and elect their mayors of Tbilisi and Yerevan. I hope the positivism of this practice will be recognised in the whole of South Caucasus.