Polls have closed in Armenia for a snap parliamentary election called by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan amid growing anger after the country’s defeat in the war against arch-foe Azerbaijan.
Around 2.6 million people are eligible to vote to elect, for a five-year term, the minimum number of 101 parliament members under a proportional electoral system.
A winning party needs to obtain at least 50 percent of seats plus one and can be assigned additional seats in order to form a government.
Polls closed at 8pm (16:00 GMT) in an election being monitored by observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
The first official results were expected later on Sunday and early Monday.
The central elections commission said 49 percent of eligible voters cast ballots.
Pashinyan, who has lost much of his appeal since last year’s military defeat, is hoping to renew his mandate but is in a tight race with former president Robert Kocharyan.
His critics accuse him of ceding swaths of territory in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan in a truce agreement that ended last year’s fighting and of failing to deliver on reform promises.
During an aggressive campaign marred by polarising rhetoric, Pashinyan said he expected his Civil Contract party to secure 60 percent of the vote, though some pollsters say those estimates are far-fetched.
The election in the South Caucasus country of around three million people will be watched by Armenia’s Soviet-era master Russia as well as Turkey, which backed Azerbaijan in last year’s six-week war over Nagorno-Karabakh.
Kocharyan appeared in good spirits as he showed up at a Yerevan polling station.
“I voted for worthy peace and economic growth,” he said.
By contrast, Pashinyan did not address reporters at a polling station but wrote on Facebook: “I am voting for the future of our state and people, for the development of Armenia.”
Result hard to predict
Political observers say the election result is hard to predict with voter apathy running high and both Pashinyan and Kocharyan drawing massive crowds in the final days of the race.
Al Jazeera’s Rory Challands, reporting from Yerevan, said that people are hoping “these elections that were brought forward two years are going to confer on the winner some degree of popular legitimacy and give them five years … in which to start grappling with [the country’s] issues”.
However, according to Challands, the morale is low.
“We’ve been speaking to the people who have said essentially none of the politicians on offer are particularly appealing to them anymore and they are still deep in the trauma of their losses as is the whole country,” Challands added.
Armenian President Armen Sarkissian, largely a ceremonial figure, decried attempts “to incite hatred and enmity” and urged law enforcement to prevent any violations.
“These elections are taking place in a difficult situation,” he said on Saturday. “They are of crucial importance for our state and people.”