Armenians voted Sunday, June 20 in risky early legislative elections for Prime Minister Nikol Pachinian, whose popularity collapsed after the recent military defeat to Azerbaijan, at the end of a vehement campaign raising fears of a climate stretched after the publication of the results.
About 2.6 million Armenian voters were called to the polls to elect at least 101 deputies for five years. The polling stations closed at 6 p.m. (Paris time) and the first results are expected within a few hours.
Ex-journalist Nikol Pachinian, 46, brought to power in 2018 by a peaceful revolution against old corrupt elites, confronts ex-president Robert Kocharian, 66, who accuses his rival of incompetence and poses as leader experimented.
“I voted for the development of our state and our people, for the future of Armenia”, wrote the prime minister on social media, after shaking a few hands in Yerevan. Mr. Kotcharian was greeted with applause on his arrival at a polling station in the capital. “I voted in the name of a dignified peace and economic growth”, did he declare.
If his party does not obtain a majority, Nikol Pashinian could lose his post after the polls, his popularity having collapsed after the rout of Yerevan during the war against Azerbaijan, neighbor and sworn enemy, in the l fall 2020.
After six weeks of fighting that left more than 6,500 dead, Armenia had to cede important territories that it had controlled since a first war with Baku in the 1990s. The two countries are fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh, a region Azerbaijani separatist predominantly populated by Armenians.
Perceived as a humiliation, this defeat triggered a crisis in Armenia, forcing Nikol Pachinian to convene legislative elections in the hope of strengthening his legitimacy. Many of his former supporters accuse him of being a “Traitor” for having accepted a ceasefire and now look to his adversaries.
After obtaining more than 70% of the vote in the legislative elections of 2018, the formation of Mr. Pachinian is now credited with only 25% of the voting intentions by the only available poll, behind the Armenia bloc of Mr. Kotcharian with nearly 29%. Three other parties, among the 25 parties in the running, have chances of entering Parliament, according to this survey by the MPG institute, affiliated with Gallup International.
Mr Pachinian this week urged his compatriots to give him a “Steel mandate” and warned against “A civil war”.
“We are a team which, unlike the current administration, has experience, knowledge, strength and will”, for his part launched Mr. Kotcharian Friday in front of his supporters in Yerevan. President from 1998 to 2008 of this poor and mountainous former Soviet republic, he has been accused of electoral fraud in the past and is the subject of an investigation into charges of corruption.
Charges of violations
At 5 p.m. local, participation exceeded 38% against almost 40% at the same time during the legislative elections of 2018. The electoral campaign showed a deep division between the two camps and observers expect demonstrations, even violence after the ballot. A rally of supporters of Mr. Pachinian is expected Monday evening in Yerevan and those of Kotcharian could also meet.
The vote took place on Sunday in general calm, but two formations, including that of Mr. Kotcharian, denounced violations. Observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), tasked with monitoring the transparency of the ballot, will present their preliminary findings at 1 p.m. KST on Monday.