Polls close in Armenia’s early parliamentary election

Vote is a test of the power shift in Armenia following the peaceful revolution earlier this year.

Polls closed in Armenia’s early parliamentary election on Sunday, as acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan seeks a stronger mandate, having been elected by legislators to the post in May following a peaceful revolution earlier this year.

Pashinyan came to power in the spring, following weeks of mass protests against corruption and cronyism in the former Soviet republic of three million people.

The former newspaper editor, who was jailed for fomenting unrest in 2008, represents a dramatic break from the cadre of rulers who have run Armenia since the late 1990s.

He stepped down in October so parliament could be dissolved for the early election.

By the time the polls closed at 16:00GMT, 49 percent of the nation’s eligible voters cast ballots. Preliminary results are expected to be released in the early hours on Monday.

Former high-ranking officials were sacked and some were arrested following the power change. And a court of appeal ordered the detention of former President Robert Kocharyan again on Friday on charges of attempting to overthrow the constitutional order.

He was first arrested in July but freed the following month and the case was sent to the appeals court.

Kocharyan was Armenia’s second president, serving from 1998 to 2008, when mass protests erupted over a disputed election.

The former ruling Republican Party, however, still dominates the current parliament that was elected in 2017.

Pashinyan has said he expects Sunday’s vote to lead to a legislature that better reflects the nation’s new political landscape. 

Nine parties and two blocs are taking part in the election and opinion polls suggest the My Step Alliance, which includes Pashinyan’s Civil Contract Party, will easily win a parliamentary majority.

In September, Pashinyan’s bloc won a landslide victory in municipal elections, winning more than 80 percent of the vote in the capital Yerevan, where nearly 40 percent of the country’s population lives.

Reporting from the Armenian capital Yerevan, Al Jazeera’s Robin Forestier-Walker, said that a Pashinyan victory would complete the peaceful revolution that began earlier in the year.

“If that happens, this will be the finishing touch of his so-called velvet revolution, when back in the spring, he managed to bring out tens of thousands of Armenians on to the streets, to bring about a peaceful transition of power. Back then, he was elected prime minister with hundreds of thousands of Armenians on the streets, demanding parliament make him the country’s leader,” he said.

“But he only had a handful of seats in parliament, so what he needs now, and why he’s holding this snap election, is to transfer that popular power that he has on the streets into the corridors of power, where he will have a legitimate mandate to carry out the reforms that he’s promised to the Armenian people.

“Things like dealing with the oligarchs and their monopolies on the economy, bringing in more money, more investment, changing the education system, and of course, one of his key platforms, having a free and fair democratic system.”

After taking office, Pashinyan promised there would be no major shifts in Armenian foreign policy and has offered assurances he will not break with Moscow.

Armenia hosts a Russian military base and is a member of the Russia-led military and economic alliances.

Pashinyan also suggested he would stick to the existing policies on the long-running issue of Nagorno-Karabakh.

A mountainous part of Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh, is run by ethnic Armenians who declared independence from Baku during a conflict that broke out as the Soviet Union crumbled in 1991.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies