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President Serzh Sarkisian on Thursday set a date for Armenia’s forthcoming parliamentary elections which he hopes will enable his Republican Party (HHK) to retain control over the National Assembly.

The presidential press service said Sarkisian signed a decree scheduling the elections for May 6.

Although campaigning for the polls will not officially get underway before late March, the HHK and other major political forces are already gearing up for a parliamentary race that will have serious implications for next year’s presidential ballot. An HHK victory would put Sarkisian in a better position to secure a second term in office.

Galust Sahakian, a deputy chairman of the HHK, predicted late last month that the ruling party will gain even more parliament seats than it has now.

The HHK faction in the current 131-seat National Assembly officially numbers 63 members. The presidential party is also backed by about a dozen nominally independent deputies.

Some Armenian opposition leaders have already accused the Republicans of planning to rig the upcoming vote. Government officials dismiss such claims. Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian said late last year that the Armenian authorities intend to hold the most democratic election in the country’s post-Soviet history.

The authorities point to a raft of amendments to the Electoral Code that were enacted by them in May last year. European and U.S. officials largely praised those amendments, saying that they bode well for the proper conduct of the vote.

Armenia’s leading opposition groups downplay them, however, saying that the pro-government majority in the National Assembly rejected more radical changes proposed by the opposition minority. Those would, among other things, abolish parliamentary elections held in single-mandate constituencies.

The Electoral Code reserves 41 parliament seats for those constituencies. The remaining 90 seats are to be contested under the system of proportional representation.

The parliament is expected to vote later this month on an opposition bill that calls for the elections to be held only on the party-list basis. Majority leaders have made clear that they will block its passage.

The main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) has already warned that the authorities will face an anti-government “revolution” if they resort to vote rigging. “Either they will hold fair, transparent and legitimate elections or will thrust the country into upheavals,” Levon Zurabian, an HAK leader, said in late December.

President Serzh Sarkisian and the HHK may also face a serious challenge from the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) of businessman Gagik Tsarukian, their main junior partner in the governing coalition. Relations between the two parties have reportedly deteriorated in recent months because of Tsarukian’s apparent reluctance to pledge support for Sarkisian’s reelection in 2013.
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