Voters in Armenia are electing a new parliament in the first poll since the country granted more power to its lawmakers. The opposition has claimed that the reform was a ploy to keep the current president in power.
Polls opened on Sunday in what is expected to be a tight parliamentary race in Armenia. Citizens in the ex-Soviet republic are set to decide the battle between the ruling party, headed by President Serzh Sargsyan, and the coalition behind businessman and former world champion arm wrestler Gagik Tsarukian.
The opposition has voiced suspicions that the government was preparing electoral fraud. Ahead of the vote, the US Embassy and the EU delegation to Armenia also said they were “concerned by allegations of voter intimidation, attempts to buy votes, and the systemic use of administrative resources to aid certain competing parties.”
President Sargsyan, in turn, told the AFP news agency the authorities “made enormous efforts so that [Sunday’s] milestone vote is flawless.”
Reporter attacked on voting day
Opposition politicians complained of a string of voting irregularities on Sunday.
“We have recorded numerous violations at polling stations – violation of ballots’ secrecy and multiple voting,” opposition leader Hovsep Khurshudyan told the AFP news agency after polls opened on Sunday.
A local reporter posted a video on Sunday allegedly showing pro-government activists attacking him and a female coworker. Armenian news site arminfo, citing a radio station where the journalist works, said the incident occurred after the reporter noticed voters entering a party headquarters and leaving with money in their hands.
The police said it was looking into the incident.
Other reports focused on technical glitches with the system that identifies voters by their fingerprints.
Looking at Russia
The 62-year-old Sargsyan was elected president in 2008 and is set to step down after his second term ends in 2018. However, he has hinted that he intends to stay politically active in the impoverished nation of 2.9 million.
In 2015, Armenian citizens voted for a constitutional reform to turn the state into a parliamentary republic. Government critics believe that the reform was aiming to allow Sargsyan to keep his leading role after his term ends, this time as prime minister rather than president.
The Sunday poll is the first parliamentary vote since the referendum.
Sargsyan’s main challenger, Tsarukian, is considered to be one of richest people in Armenia. During the campaign, the oligarch vowed to cut tariffs on natural gas and electricity and boost public-sector salaries and pensions.
Both major parties support close ties with Russia, the key ally in the frozen Nagorno-Karabakh against Azerbaijan.
dj/sms (dpa, AFP, Interfax)