Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has claimed victory in an early parliamentary election he called in an effort to defuse a political crisis following last year’s disastrous war with Azerbaijan.
But the electoral alliance of his main rival, former President Robert Kocharyan, quickly contested the results of the vote and the alleged electoral fraud.
The vote has been seen as a two-horse race, with Pashinyan, 46, and Kocharyan, 66, drawing massive crowds in the run-up to the polls.
Preliminary poll results on Sunday showed that Pashinyan’s party leads with 57% of the vote, well ahead of Kocharyan’s alliance with 19%.
Official results based on the ballots of more than 60% of the electoral districts counted showed that another party obtained more than 5% of the votes needed to win seats in parliament.
“The people of Armenia gave our part of the Civil Contract a mandate to lead the country and personally to me to lead the country as prime minister,” Pashinyan announced early Monday.
“We already know that we won a convincing victory in the elections and we will have a convincing majority in parliament,” he added, urging supporters to appear in Yerevan’s main square on Monday night.
The Kocharyan electoral bloc said it would not recognize Pashinyan’s swift victory claim, which came when only 30% of the precincts had been counted.
“Hundreds of signals from polling stations testifying to organized and planned forgeries serve as a serious reason for the lack of trust,” the bloc said in a statement, adding that it will not “recognize” the results until the “violations” are studied .
Earlier Sunday night, the attorney general’s office said it had received 319 reports of violations. He said he had opened six criminal investigations, all related to bribery during the campaign.
The vote was followed by Russia, the Soviet-era Armenian teacher, archenemy Azerbaijan and Turkey, which backed Azerbaijan in the six-week war over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region last year.
Despite the sweltering heat, nearly 50% of about 2.6 million eligible voters cast their votes, election officials said. Some observers said that the turnout in the South Caucasus country of three million people was higher than expected.
During a campaign marred by polarizing rhetoric, Pashinyan had said he expected his party to get 60% of the vote. Election officials said the vote was carried out in accordance with Armenian law.
Kocharyan himself was accused of rigging a presidential election in favor of his handpicked ally and presiding over a deadly crackdown on protesters in 2008.
Armenia won international praise for celebrating its first free and fair vote under Pashinyan in 2018.
On the streets of Yerevan on Sunday, Armenians expressed conflicting views on Pashinyan. Voter Anahit Sargsyan said the prime minister, who led peaceful protests against corrupt elites in 2018, deserved another chance. He said he feared the return of the old guard whom he accused of looting the country.
“I voted against going back to the old ways,” 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 welfare of the wounded and a strong army,” said the 41-year-old musician.
Critics blame Pashinyan for having ceded territory in and around Karabakh to Azerbaijan in a humiliating truce agreement and accuse him of failing to comply with reforms.
Pashinyan has said that he had to accept the peace agreement negotiated by Moscow with Azerbaijan to avoid further human and territorial losses.
More than 6,500 people died in the war, according to the latest official figures from Armenia and Azerbaijan.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism