Armenia PM claims victory in snap polls

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan claimed victory early Monday in snap parliamentary elections called in an effort to defuse a political crisis after a disastrous war with Azerbaijan.

Preliminary results from Sunday’s polls showed Pashinyan’s party leading with 58 percent of the vote, far ahead of ex-president Robert Kocharyan’s alliance with 18.8 percent.

Official results based on ballots from 47 percent of precincts counted showed one other party garnering more than 5 percent of the vote.

The election has been seen as a two-horse race, with both Pashinyan and Kocharyan drawing massive crowds in the run-up to the polls.

“The people of Armenia gave our Civil Contract party a mandate to lead the country and personally me to lead the country as prime minister,” Pashinyan announced in the early hours of Monday. 

“We already know that we won a convincing victory in the elections and we will have a convincing majority in parliament,” he added, urging supporters to turn up at Yerevan’s main square Monday evening.

The vote was being followed by Armenia’s Soviet-era master Russia, arch-foe Azerbaijan and Turkey, which backed Azerbaijan in the six-week war over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh last year.

Despite stifling heat, nearly 50 percent of around 2.6 million eligible voters cast their ballots, election officials said. Some observers said turnout in the South Caucasus country of three million people was higher than expected.

During a campaign marred by polarising rhetoric, Pashinyan had said he expected his Civil Contract party to secure 60 percent of the vote.

– ‘Against old ways’ –

On the streets of Yerevan on Sunday, Armenians voiced conflicting opinions about Pashinyan.

Voter Anahit Sargsyan said the prime minister deserved another chance. She feared the return of the old guard whom she accused of plundering the country.

“I voted against a return to the old ways,” said the 63-year-old former teacher. 

Another voter, Vardan Hovhannisyan, said he had cast his ballot for Kocharyan, who calls Russian leader Vladimir Putin his friend.

“I voted for secure borders, solidarity in society, the return of our war prisoners, the well-being of the wounded and a strong army,” said the 41-year-old musician. 

Critics blame Pashinyan for having ceded territory in and around Karabakh to Azerbaijan in a humiliating truce agreement, and accuse him of having failed to deliver reforms.

Pashinyan has said he had to agree to the Moscow-brokered peace deal with Azerbaijan in order to prevent further human and territorial losses.

More than 6,500 people were killed in the war, according to the latest official figures from Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Besides Kocharyan, two other leaders of post-Soviet Armenia backed parties in the race. All three oppose Pashinyan.

Voting was held in a relatively calm atmosphere, but Kocharyan called for a probe into the appearance of leaflets attacking him, and his bloc also alleged irregularities.

Kocharyan was himself accused of rigging a presidential election in favour of his hand-picked ally and presiding over a deadly crackdown on protesters in 2008. 

Armenia won international praise for holding its first free and fair vote under Pashinyan in 2018.

– Venomous campaign – 

During a venomous campaign, candidates exchanged insults and threats. Pashinyan, 46, brandished a hammer at rallies, while Kocharyan, 66, said he would be ready to fight the prime minister in a duel.

A record four electoral blocs and 21 parties ran for election but only a handful are expected to win seats in parliament.

A winning party needs to obtain at least 50 percent of seats plus one and can be assigned additional seats in order to form a government. 

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