[QODLink]
Europe
Armenians vote for a new president
The prime minister leads in polls and is favoured to succeed the outgoing president.
Last Modified: 19 Feb 2008 09:09 GMT
Opposition candidates say they will urge supporters on to the streets if they deem the vote unfair [AFP]

Armenians have begun voting for a new president with their country's prime minister and ally of Robert Kocharian, the outgoing leader, seen as the frontrunner after a bitterly fought campaign.

 

Polling stations across the ex-Soviet republic opened on Tuesday at 8am (0400 GMT) and are due to close at 8pm.

<

Opinion polls showed that Serzh Sarkisian, the prime minister, was well ahead of his eight rivals in the race to replace president Kocharian - who is constitutionally barred from running for a third five-year term.

 

Sarkisian is seen as improving living standards and facilitating economic growth.

But analysts say he may struggle to win the more than the 50 per cent needed to avoid a second round.

 

Kocharian chose him as his successor after Sarkisian's Republican Party of Armenia swept parliamentary elections in May last year.

  

Both men are credited with ensuring relative stability.

  

Speaking to tens of thousands of supporters at a rally on Sunday, Sarkisian, 53, said his government was the only one voters could trust to maintain economic growth.

 

'Political force'  

 

"I know there are many problems in our country - poverty, unemployment, corruption. We are the only political force that knows how to resolve these problems," he said.

  

Sarkisian's two main rivals - Levon Ter-Petrosian, former president, and Artur Baghdasarian, a former parliamentary speaker - boosted the prime minister's chances by failing to unite ahead of the vote.

  

Opponents accuse the Sarkisian camp of making unfair use of state resources to promote his candidacy, a charge the prime minister has denied.

  

Opposition candidates say they will call supporters to protest if they believe the vote is unfair, raising fears of post-election unrest.

  

Analysts predict Sarkisian will follow in Kocharian's footsteps if elected - pursuing close ties with Moscow and maintaining a hawkish stance with neighbouring Azerbaijan and Turkey.

  

Genocide

 

The two countries have cut diplomatic ties and sealed their borders with Armenia over its support for Armenian separatists in Azerbaijan's rebel Nagorny-Karabakh region.

  

Ankara has also been angered by efforts by the Armenian capital, Yerevan, to have mass killings of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire in the first world war internationally recognised as genocide.

  

Pre-election polls showed Sarkisian hovering at about 50 per cent support, with Ter-Petrosian and Baghdasarian trailing with between 10 and 15 per cent.

 

Opposition candidates have questioned the polling companies' independence.

  

About 600 foreign observers are to monitor the vote and analysts say the government is keen to win international legitimacy for the result.

  

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is to issue a report on the election on Wednesday.

  

Parliamentary elections last May were the first to be declared largely in accordance with international standards.

Source:
Agencies
Topics in this article
People
Featured on Al Jazeera
An innovative rehabilitation programme offers Danish fighters in Syria an escape route and help without prosecution.
Street tension between radical Muslims and Holland's hard right rises, as Islamic State anxiety grows.
Take an immersive look at the challenges facing the war-torn country as US troops begin their withdrawal.
Ministers and MPs caught on camera sleeping through important speeches have sparked criticism that they are not working.
Featured
About 500,000 participated around the globe in the Peoples Climate March, and Al Jazeera spoke to some in New York.
Separatist movements in Spain, Belgium and Italy may face headwinds following Scotland's decision to stay in the UK.
A fishing trawler carrying 500 migrants across the Mediterranean was rammed by another boat, causing hundreds to drown.
Anti-immigration Sweden Democrats party - with roots in the neo-Nazi movement - recently won 12.9 percent of the vote.
Palestinian doctor who lost three daughters in previous Gaza war is fighting to bring 100 wounded kids to Canada.