President Serzh Sarksyan's ruling Republican Party (HHK) has been declared the winner of Armenia's April 2 parliamentary election with 49.12% of the vote, the Central Election Commission said on April 4.
The election was the first that Armenia has held under a new constitution to introduce a parliamentary republic, approved in a December 2015 referendum. Next year the parliament, rather than voters, will elect the president for the first time, with the presidency reduced to little more than a ceremonial post and the prime minister’s powers greatly increased. Observers say the RPA leader and current president, Sarksyan, 62, could attempt to retain his hold on executive power by becoming prime minister in 2018.
While narrowly failing to pass the 50% mark, his party left the opposition Tsarukyan Alliance, led by wealthy businessman Gagik Tsarukyan’s Prosperous Armenia, trailing in second place with just 27.32% of votes cast at the 2,009 polling stations. The nationalist Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF-Dashnaktsutyun), which is loyal to the government, and the opposition Yelk ("Way Out”) bloc also crossed the threshold to enter the parliament, with 6.57% and 7.77% of votes cast respectively. Turnout was 60.86%.
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which sent 250 monitors to observe the conduct of the election, said in a statement that the poll was “well administered and fundamental freedoms were generally respected”.
However, it added that some abuses had been recorded. “There was credible information of vote-buying, of pressure on public servants including in schools and hospitals, and of intimidation of voters to vote for certain parties. This contributed to an overall lack of public confidence in the electoral process,” it said.
The Republicans and Dashnaktsutyun were coalition partners in the just-concluded parliament. They are expected to form a coalition again with incumbent Karen Karapetyan to be named as prime minister.
HHK and Prosperous Armenia took first and second places in the election despite being criticised during the campaign for presenting few new ideas for tackling Armenia’s low wages, unemployment, high inflation and corruption. For many Armenians in the impoverished country of 2.9mn, these issues now override the question of whether the country should remain within the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) or seek closer integration with Europe.
Both HHK and Prosperous Armenia back maintaining close ties with Russia, Armenia’s crucial ally when it comes to the frozen conflict with Azerbaijan over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Another shadow was cast on the election on April 2 when Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported that one of its Armenian service journalists was attacked after noticing citizens leaving a local HHK campaign office in Yerevan with money in their hands.
People inside the campaign office, who refused to identify themselves, claimed it was salary money and not "election bribes”, RFE/RL added, saying that Gabrielian suffered minor injuries after, he claimed, he was roughed up by party loyalists.
Other reports of voting irregularities, added German news service Deutsche Welle, concerned technical glitches with the fingerprint system used to identify voters. One voting machine even failed to recognise President Sargsyan when he voted, it added.
Prior to the poll, both the US Embassy and the EU delegation to Armenia said they were concerned by allegations of voter intimidation, vote buying claims and systemic use of administrative resources to aid certain parties.