PM Nikol Pashinyan Wins by Landslide in Low-Turnout Election

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YEREVAN (Combined Sources) — Armenia’s acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan won a convincing victory in the snap parliamentary election on Sunday, December 9, consolidating his authority.

Nikol Pashinyan voting

His bloc won more than 70 percent of the vote, the country’s election commission said.

A journalist turned politician, Pashinyan spearheaded a peaceful revolution in April.

He now has a parliamentary majority to push through his program of tackling corruption and reforming the economy. Poll turnout was low, at about 49 percent.

A young boy helps his father vote.

Historically, Armenia’s elections have been marred by fraud and vote-buying.

However, international observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said the elections had respected fundamental freedoms and were characterized by genuine competition.

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Final official results show that the centrist My Step Alliance, which includes Pashinyan’s Civil Contract Party, won 70.4 percent of the vote.

Its nearest rival, the moderate Prosperous Armenia party won just over 8 percent. Led by tycoon and arm-wrestling champion Gagik Tsarukyan, it was part of the ruling coalition in the outgoing parliament.

Nicolas Aznavour votes for the first time in Armenia

Bright Armenia, a liberal pro-Western party, won about 6 percent of the vote, the commission said.

Each party needed at least 5 percent of the vote to enter the 101-seat National Assembly.

Armenia’s constitution states that 30 percent of seats in parliament must go to opposition parties.

Analysts say the 43-year-old will aim to keep his promises while staying in the good books of Armenia’s key ally, Russia.

Pashinyan has said he hopes to “step up co-operation with the United States and European Union.”

The revolution led by Pashinyan ousted the country’s 10-year President Serzh Sargsyan, a member of the Republic Party. He was accused of clinging to power after taking on the newly-enhanced role of prime minister when his term ended.

Now senior Republican Party figures have accused Pashinyan of trying to turn Armenia into 1930s Germany, and of becoming a Hitler figure.

His critics say his “cult of personality” will weaken multi-party democracy.

Armen Ashotyan, vice-president of the Republican Party, complained before the election that “all political parties were deprived of time to prepare well.”

Former President Serzh Sargsyan casts his ballot.

A total of  1,260,000 citizens, or 48.63 percent of the population, participated in the early parliamentary elections of Armenia, Central Election Commission (CEC) chairman Tigran Mukuchyan informed.

Former President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK) and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF/Dashnaktsutyun) essentially accepted on Monday official election results showing that they will no longer have seats in the country’s parliament.

According to the preliminary results released by the CEC, the Republican Party won 4.7 percent of the vote in Sunday’s general elections, falling short of the 5 percent threshold to enter the National Assembly. The ARF got 3.9 percent and will also not be represented in the parliament.

The setback is particularly severe for the HHK which won the previous parliamentary elections held as recently as in April 2017.

“These elections were democratic in form but not in substance,” the HHK said in a statement.

The statement accused Pashinyan of abusing his administrative resources and whipping up “intolerance towards dissent” during the election campaign. It also alleged government harassment of Republican local government officials and other party activists.

Still, the former ruling party indicated that it will not challenge the official vote results in court or otherwise. “We wish the forces elected to the parliament and the government to be formed by them success because the security and development prospects of our country depend on that,” it said.

The statement also said that the HHK will continue to challenge Pashinyan’s government as an “extraparliamentary force.” Appealing to party supporters, it added: “Rest assured that we will do everything in our power to ensure that the noise of populism does not suppress your voice.”

Dashnaktsutyun, which has been represented in the parliament since 1999, also tried to put a brave face on its electoral performance. “This is a defeat but not of our voters,” it said, describing the latter as principled individuals who voted for a party program, rather than a popular individual.

A much larger number of other voters, a Dashnaktsutyun statement complained, looked for an “internal enemy” and “shockingly” ignored grave challenges facing their country.

Pashinyan’s bloc will have a two-thirds majority in the new parliament, putting it in a position to not only push through government bills but also amend some articles of the Armenian constitution.

Shortly after the more than 2,000 polling stations across Armenia opened early in the morning Pashinyan urged voters to brave a rainy and snowy weather and turn out in large numbers. In a live Facebook address aired a few hours later, he expressed concern at early signs that turnout is lower than it was in the last legislative elections held in 2017.

 

European Observers Praise Armenia’s ‘Democratic’ Elections

Observers representing the leading pan-European organizations on Monday described the weekend parliamentary elections in Armenia as democratic, saying that they witnessed virtually no serious irregularities.

The more than 300 observers mostly deployed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) gave the most positive assessment ever by a Western-led monitoring mission of major elections held in the South Caucasus nation.

In a joint statement, they said the snap polls won by Pashinyan’s My Step alliances enjoyed “broad public trust” and were marked by a “general absence of electoral malfeasance, including of vote buying and pressure on voters.”

“Election day proceeded calmly and peacefully with all stages assessed positively by almost all [mission] observers, indicating general adherence to the procedures,” read the statement.

“The vote count was assessed positively in all but two polling stations observed, indicating that the counting process was conducted without significant procedural violations,” it added.

“I congratulate the Armenian people,” Aleksander Pociej, the head of a delegation of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) that was part of the monitoring mission.

“[Armenia’s] 2018 peaceful ‘velvet’ revolution, in conjunction with the political will of the current authorities, enabled the holding of democratic elections,” Pociej told a joint news conference with the other mission chiefs.

“Democracy cannot proceed without trust, so I am pleased that broad public trust was the central characteristic of this election,” said Peter Osusky, who led 250 or so short-term observers deployed by the OSCE. Heidi Hautala, a European Parliament member, likewise stated that there were “minimum irregularities” in Sunday’s vote, unlike in the previous Armenian parliamentary elections that were held in April 2017 and also monitored by her.

A similar OSCE-led mission cited at the time “credible information about vote-buying and pressure on civil servants and employees of private companies.” The then ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) was widely accused of resorting to the illegal practices.

“Positively, electoral stakeholders did not report any systematic efforts of vote-buying and other electoral malfeasance,” the European observers said this time around.

In their preliminary findings, they also praised Armenian media coverage of the parliamentary race. They said local broadcasters, who remain the main source of information for voters, “made a visible effort to cover all electoral contestants.”

“The public television provided a reasonably balanced coverage,” said their statement. “Positively, a number of media, including the public television, organized genuine debates, bringing together candidates from all the contestants.”

The HHK claimed throughout the election campaign that its activists across the country are summoned by police officials and warned against telling people to vote for the former ruling party. Urszula Gacek, the head of the European monitoring mission, said her observers were aware of the alleged harassment but found no evidence of it.

(Reports from Armenpress, the BBC and Radio Liberty were used to compile this coverage. Armenian TV provided the video footage which the Mirror‘s video correspondent subtitled in English)

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