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AFP
June 21, 2021

Post-war Armenia votes in snap polls

AFP
June 21, 2021

YEREVAN: Armenians went to the polls on Sunday in early parliamentary elections called by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan in an attempt to heal divisions after a disastrous war with Azerbaijan and renew his mandate.

But the reformist leader, who spearheaded peaceful protests in 2018, has lost much of his appeal after a humiliating defeat last year to Azerbaijan over a decades-old territorial dispute and is in a tight race with former president Robert Kocharyan.

Analysts say the election result is hard to predict, with both Pashinyan and Kocharyan drawing massive crowds on the eve of the polls and planning four days of rallies after the vote.

The election in the South Caucasus country of three million people is being watched by Armenia’s Soviet-era master Moscow, arch foe Baku and Ankara, which backed Azerbaijan in the six-week war over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Kocharyan, who hails from Karabakh and was in power between 1998 and 2008, appeared in good spirits as he showed up at a Yerevan polling station. “I voted for worthy peace and economic growth,” he said.

By contrast, Pashinyan did not address reporters at a polling station but wrote on Facebook: “I am voting for the future of our state and people, for the development of Armenia.”

During a campaign marred by polarising rhetoric, he said he expected his Civil Contract party to secure 60 per cent of the vote, though some pollsters say those estimates are far-fetched.

Three hours after polls opened, voter turnout stood at over 12 percent, election officials said.

On Sunday, Kocharyan’s electoral bloc alleged election irregularities, while one Pashinyan opponent wrote on Facebook that a military commander in the country’s northeast pressured subordinates to back the prime minister.

A venomous campaign saw candidates exchange 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.

Kocharyan faces a corruption probe and was also investigated over a deadly crackdown on protesters more than a decade ago.

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.