Armenians voted Sunday in parliamentary elections triggered years ahead of schedule by reformist leader Nikol Pashinyan, who is aiming to cement his political authority in the post-Soviet country.
The 43-year-old former journalist became prime minister in May after spearheading weeks of peaceful anti-government rallies that ousted veteran leader Serzh Sarkisian.
He has pledged to root out endemic corruption and address widespread poverty, earning him supporters in the impoverished landlocked nation of about three million people.
“After the elections, we will be developing Armenian democracy and make an economic revolution happen,” Pashinyan told journalists after casting his ballot Sunday, pledging to “hold free, fair, and transparent elections.”
Pashinyan’s reform drive had been stalled for months by opposition from Sarkisian’s ruling party, which dominated the National Assembly until his calculated resignation triggered parliament’s dissolution last month.
At a polling station in central Yerevan voters expressed optimism about the political change promised by Pashinyan and vented their anger at former corrupt officials.
“Thanks to the revolution, we will finally have fair elections,” 72-year-old pensioner Parzik Avetisyan told AFP.
“I voted for the positive change promised by Nikol (Pashinyan),” he added.
Another voter, 52-year-old painter Garnik Arakelyan, said: “I want all those corrupt officials who for many years were robbing and humiliating people to be jailed.”
Turnout was 24.53 percent by 2:00 pm (1000 GMT), six hours after polls opened, the central election commission said.
Pashinyan’s party is expected to get a majority in the new legislature, allowing him to push ahead with his campaign to reshape the South Caucasus nation’s political landscape and spark an “economic revolution”.
“Pashinyan’s party is likely to take a dominant position in the newly elected parliament and to get all the levers they need to step up promised economic and political reforms,” analyst Gevorg Poghosyan told AFP.
Last week, Pashinyan — who is acting prime minister — promised “the best elections Armenia has ever seen,” without ballot stuffing or voter intimidation.
– ‘Revolutionary euphoria’ –
Parliamentary elections had not been scheduled to be held until 2022.
Analysts say Pashinyan sought new elections while he is at the peak of his popularity.
In September, his bloc had a landslide victory in municipal elections, winning more than 80 percent of the vote in the capital Yerevan, where nearly 40 percent of the former Soviet Republic’s population lives.
“The elections were called on the wave of a revolutionary euphoria,” Poghosyan told AFP.
“But after the polls, that sentiment will inevitably weaken and Pashinyan and his team will face a reality check.”
On foreign policy, Pashinyan has said Armenia will “further strengthen (our) strategic alliance with Russia and, at the same time, step up cooperation with the United States and European Union”.
Nine political parties and two electoral blocs are competing for mandates in the 101-seat National Assembly.
A party needs at least five percent of the votes to get elected in the parliament, while an electoral bloc must clear a seven-percent barrier.
But — regardless of how many votes they receive in the elections — opposition parties will take at least 30 percent of parliamentary seats, according to Armenia’s electoral law.
Polls opened at 0400 GMT and will close at 1600 GMT. Results are expected to be released in the early hours on Monday.