President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party won Armenia’s first legislative elections since the adoption of constitutional reforms that are transforming the country into a parliamentary republic, official results released on Monday showed.
With votes tallied from 99.8 percent of precincts, the central electoral commission said the Republican Party beat the main opposition coalition, led by wealthy politician Gagik Tsarukyan, by 49.15 to 27.37 percent.
“According to the elections’ early results, the Republican Party has every chance of forming the new government,” the party’s spokesman, Eduard Sharmazanov, told a news conference.
Another opposition coalition, Elk, and the Dashnaktsutyun nationalist party received 7.78 percent and 6.58 percent of the vote respectively and will also enter the parliament. Turnout was 60.86 percent, the electoral panel said.
The West views Armenia’s election as a key democratic test for the landlocked nation of 2.9 million, which has no history of transferring power to the opposition through the ballot box.
The pro-Russian Sarkisian has said his government “made enormous efforts so that (the) milestone vote is flawless.”
Violence flared following his election in 2008, with 10 people killed in clashes between police and opposition supporters. But opposition politicians have reported violations at polling stations after previously warning that the government is preparing mass electoral fraud.
“We have recorded numerous violations at polling stations — violation of ballots’ secrecy and multiple voting,” Hovsep Khurshudyan, a leader of Ohanyan-Raffi-Oskanyan, an opposition coalition, told AFP on Sunday night.
Five parties and four electoral blocs ran in Sunday’s vote, with 101 parliamentary seats up for grabs under a system of proportional representation.
Before the vote, the EU delegation to Armenia and the US embassy said in a joint statement they were “concerned by allegations of voter intimidation, attempts to buy votes, and the systemic use of administrative resources to aid certain competing parties.”
Under constitutional changes critics say were designed to prolong Sarkisian’s political life after his final presidential term ends next year, the presidency will become largely ceremonial. Power passes to the prime minister.
Sarkisian, the 62-year-old leader of RPA, has repeatedly denied that the changes, approved in a December 2015 referendum, were made to allow him to retain power in the former Soviet republic.
Sarkisian has been president since 2008. Under the new system, critics say, he could keep wielding executive power by becoming prime minister in 2018, stay active by remaining leader of the RPA or quit politics but keep exercising influence through a handpicked successor.
Many Armenians accuse the government of corruption and of mishandling the troubled economy.
Armenia depends heavily for aid and investment on Russia, which has been hard hit in the past three years by an economic downturn. Armenia has felt the impact, with growth falling to 0.2 percent last year from 3.0 percent in 2015.