Post-war Armenia holds snap parliamentary election

Post-war Armenia holds snap parliamentary election

Reformist Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, who has lost much of his lustre after a military defeat last year to arch foe Azerbaijan, is hoping to renew his mandate but is in a tight race with former President Robert Kocharyan.

Polls opened in Armenia on June 20 for early parliamentary elections which were called in an attempt to heal divisions after a disastrous war with Azerbaijan, but could spark post-election protests.

Reformist Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, who has lost much of his lustre after a military defeat last year to arch foe Azerbaijan, is hoping to renew his mandate but is in a tight race with former President Robert Kocharyan.

During an aggressive campaign marred by polarising rhetoric, Mr. Pashinyan said he expected his Civil Contract party to secure 60% of the vote, though some pollsters say those estimates are far-fetched.

The election in the South Caucasus country of around three million people will be watched by Armenia’s Soviet-era master Russia as well as Turkey, which backed Azerbaijan in last year’s six-week war over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Political observers say the election result is hard to predict with voter apathy running high and both Mr. Pashinyan and Mr. Kocharyan drawing massive crowds in the final days of the race.

Besides Mr. Kocharyan, who hails from Karabakh and was in power between 1998 and 2008, two other leaders of post-Soviet Armenia are backing parties in the race. All three are in opposition to Mr. Pashinyan.

A venomous campaign saw candidates exchange insults and threats and both frontrunners are expected to stage demonstrations after the election.

Mr. Pashinyan, 46, brandished a hammer at rallies, while Mr. Kocharyan, 66, said he would be ready to fight the Prime Minister in a duel and claimed he was planning to rig the vote.

‘Time for change’

Armenian President Armen Sarkisian, largely a ceremonial figure, decried attempts “to incite hatred and enmity” and urged law enforcement to prevent any violations.

“These elections are taking place in a difficult situation,” he said on June 19. “They are of crucial importance for our state and people.”

Mr. Pashinyan supporters fear the return of the old guard and say the former newspaper editor, who swept to power in 2018, deserves another chance.

“We need to support this man, the leader who has found himself in a difficult situation due to objective reasons — the war, depressed people, and enemy countries’ everyday aggression,” said one voter, 29-year-old Ani Sargsyan.

The Prime Minister’s critics accuse him of ceding swathes of territory in and around Karabakh to Azerbaijan in a truce agreement that ended last year’s fighting and of failing to deliver on reform promises.

“We are tired of the current government,” said Ashot Hagopyan, 63. “There has been too much lying to our people so we have decided it’s time for a change.”

Mr. Pashinyan says he had to agree to the Moscow-brokered truce 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 estimates from Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Corruption probe

Mr. Kocharyan, who counts Russian leader Vladimir Putin among his friends, faces a corruption probe. He was also investigated over a deadly crackdown on protesters more than a decade ago.

Some observers say Mr. Pashinyan stands much to lose if he is voted out of power and might be investigated over his handling of the Karabakh war.

A poll released June 18 by MPG, a group affiliated with Gallup International Association, showed Mr. Kocharyan’s Armenia bloc leading narrowly with 28.7% to 25.2% for Pashinyan’s party.

Following in third with 10.8% was an alliance linked to Mr. Pashinyan’s enemy and predecessor Serzh Sargsyan.

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

Around 2.6 million people are eligible to vote to elect for a five-year term the minimum number of 101 parliament members under a proportional electoral system.

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

Polls opened at 8.00 a.m. and will close 12 hours later in an election being monitored by observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

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