Exit poll projects ruling party win in Armenia vote

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Yerevan, Apr 2 (AFP) The ruling Republican Party led parliamentary elections in Armenia today, held for the first time since constitutional reforms transformed the ex-Soviet country into a parliamentary republic, an exit poll said.

President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party received 46 per cent of the vote, while an opposition alliance led by Gagik Tsarukian, a former arm wrestler and one of the country’s wealthiest businessmen, came second with 25 percent, according to an exit poll conducted by Armenia’s Sociologists’ Association and Baltic Surveys/Gallup International.

Two more opposition forces — Elk Coalition and the nationalist Dashnaktsutyun party — are set to enter the parliament with 10 per cent and five per cent of the vote respectively, pollster Gevorg Poghosyan of Armenia’s Sociologists’ Association told a news conference.

“The margin of error is 1.5 per cent,” he said.

Turnout stood at 51 per cent nine hours after polls opened, the Central Electoral Commission said.

The West sees the 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.

Sarkisian has said his government “has made enormous efforts so that (Sunday’s) milestone vote is flawless.” But opposition politicians 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.

Before the ballot, the EU delegation to Armenia and the US embassy said in a joint statement that they were “concerned by allegations of voter intimidation, attempts to buy votes, and the systemic use of administrative resources to aid certain competing parties.”

Violence flared after Sarkisian’s election in 2008. Ten people were killed in clashes between police and opposition supporters.

The polls followed constitutional amendments initiated by Sarkisian in 2015 that his opponents say were crafted to keep his Republican Party in power.

The amendments will shift the country away from a strong presidency to a parliamentary form of government after Sarkisian’s second and final term ends in 2018.

The opposition says the changes will enable Sarkisian, 62, to maintain his grip on power by remaining party leader after he steps down as president.

Sarkisian denies that, saying the changes are “part of Armenia’s democratisation process.”

Ahead of the vote, Sarkisian told AFP he would remain “active” in politics after he left office by staying as party leader. (AFP)

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.