Sarksyan's party ahead in Armenian parliamentary elections

By bne IntelliNews May 7, 2012

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President Serzh Sarksyan's Republican Party of Armenia is on the verge of taking a narrow majority in the parliament in the May 6 elections. This could allow the party to dispense with former coalition partner the Prosperous Armenia Party and rule alone.

Sarksyan, whose rule had been tarnished from the start by the violent protests immediately after his election in 2008, had promised free and open elections. The win for his party on May 6 is expected to boost his personal position within Armenia. But while the election was a step towards more open and democratic elections in Armenia, it still drew criticism from international observers, who say that parties were not competing on a level playing field.

With 98% of ballots counted, according to the preliminary results released by the Central Electoral Commission of Armenia on May 7, the RPA had 44.05% of the vote. The party is set to take 40 of the parliament seats allocated by proportional representation, as well as winning in 28 majority election constituencies. This would give RPA 68 seats in the 131-member parliament - just above the 66 needed to form a majority government.

According to the CEC, Prosperous Armenia was in second place with 30.20% of the vote. The Armenian National Congress, an opposition bloc led by former President Levon Ter-Petrossyan had 7.10%, putting it just ahead of the 7% threshold for cross-party blocs to take a seat in the parliament. Three parties - the Heritage Party, the ARF Dashnaktsutyun Party and Orinats Yerkir Party - were over the 5% threshold for parties to take parliament seats.

Speaking to local newswire on May 7, RPA parliament member Hovhannes Sahakyan said that after the new parliament was formed and Sarksyan had consulted with other political forces, the RPA would decide on whether it was expedient to form a new coalition.

There was speculation in the run-up to the election that Sarksyan, who has opened dialogue with Ter-Petrossyan and other opposition leaders in recent months, might be planning to jettison his former allies in Prosperous Armenia and take on a new coalition partner. If the preliminary results are confirmed when the final count is in, either of these options, or going it alone, would be open to him.

The RPA did considerably better than forecast in the opinion polls, with the latest poll from Gallup International in late April 2012 giving the party just 39.0% of the vote, with Prosperous Armenia on 29.9%. There had been hopes that the election would produce a broader spread of political parties within the parliament, and give greater clout to opposition parties.

Despite Sarksyan's pre-election promise that the May 6 ballot would be the fairest and most transparent ever in Armenia, according to international election observers, there were still some shortfalls. "Sunday's parliamentary elections in Armenia featured a vibrant and largely peaceful campaign, with overall balanced media coverage, but pressure on voters and a deficient complaints process created an unequal playing field," says a report from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe/Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) issued at a press briefing on May 7.

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne, head of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe delegation, cited "reports of widespread interference with the running of polling stations, voters' movement and casting of votes throughout the day by certain political parties raised serious concerns". "The authorities must address this unacceptable behaviour before the presidential election next year," she said.

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