Acting Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan claims victory in the snap parliamentary elections he called for in an attempt to ease the political crisis following a catastrophic war with Azerbaijan.
According to 75% of the announced results, Pashinyan’s Civil Contract Party had 55.61% of the vote on Monday. His main rival, former President Robert Kocharyan’s electoral bloc, had 20 percent of the vote, according to the Central Electoral Commission (CEC).
Voter turnout was about 50 percent, with about 2.6 million eligible voters.
“The people of Armenia have given a mandate to our ‘Civil Contract’ party to lead the country, and to me personally to lead the country as prime minister,” Pashinyan said early Monday.
“We already know that we won a convincing election, we will have a convincing majority in parliament,” he added.
However, Kocharyan’s bloc questions the credibility of the preliminary results, saying it will not recognize Pashinyan’s quick victory, which took place when only 30 percent of the polls were counted.
“Hundreds of signals from selected polling stations indicating organized, planned fraud are a serious reason for the lack of trust,” the bloc said in a statement, adding that it would not “recognize” the results until “violations” were investigated.
Earlier Sunday evening, the Prosecutor General’s Office said it had received 319 reports of violations. It says it has opened six criminal investigations, all of which involved bribery during the election campaign.
The election is being monitored by experts from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), who recently assessed the vote as largely fair and free. They will make a joint decision on Monday.
Pre-election opinion polls put the two parties at a disadvantage. And although a record four constituencies – 21 parties – ran in the election, only a handful are expected to win seats.
Pashinyan called for a special referendum to try to end the political crisis that erupted after ethnic Armenian forces lost their six-week war against Azerbaijan last year and ceded territory in and around the Nagorno-Karabakh region. More than 6,500 people were killed in the war, according to the latest official figures from Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Since then, Pashinyan has been under pressure to hold regular street protests demanding the waiver of the terms of the peace agreement that ended the conflict. Under the Russia-brokered deal, Azerbaijan regained control of the territories it had lost during the war in the early 1990s. Pashinyan himself described the agreement as a disaster, but said he had to sign it to prevent further human and territorial losses.
From Moscow’s point of view, Pashinyan guarantees that the agreement will remain in place. This includes the deployment of about 2,000 Russian peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Pashinyan’s former adviser, Arsen Kharatyan, told Al Jazeera that the results allow the acting prime minister to form a government “to end the internal political turmoil.”
“Now how are you going to resolve the situation in which Armenia finds itself?” In general, the security architecture of the region has not changed much since the war. Russia is still going to be a major player in all this. “So whoever comes to power must deal directly with Moscow,” Kharatyan said, adding that Sunday’s vote showed that none of the “pro-Western” parties had won enough votes.
Armenia, which hosts the Russian military base, is a close ally of Moscow, although Pashinyan, who came to power amid street protests on the anti-corruption agenda in 2018, had colder relations with the Kremlin.
Turkey, which supports Azerbaijan in last year’s conflict, will also closely monitor the elections.
On Sunday, Armenians in the streets of Yerevan expressed conflicting opinions about Pashinyan.
Voter Anahit Sargsyan said that the Prime Minister, who is chairing peaceful protests against corrupt elites in 2018, deserves another opportunity.
He said he was afraid to return to the old guard he had accused of plundering the country.
“I voted against going back to the old way,” said the 63-year-old former teacher.
Another voter, Vardan Hovhannisyan, said he had voted for Kocharyan, who calls Russian leader Vladimir Putin his friend.
“I voted for secure borders, solidarity in society, the return of our prisoners of war, the well-being of the wounded, a strong army,” said the 41-year-old musician.
Kocharyan, originally from Karabakh, accused the Armenian leadership of inaction during last year’s war and vowed to start talks on the borders of Nagorno-Karabakh if he comes to power.
Kocharyan was the President of Armenia from 1998 to 2008; he was accused of illegal actions, when after the controversial elections in 2008. It declared a state of emergency in March.
At least 10 people were killed in clashes between police and protesters.