Voting began on Sunday in Armenia’s parliamentary elections that pose the most serious test yet of President Serzh Sarkisian’s four-year rule and his administration’s declared commitment to democratic reform.
Eight parties and one electoral bloc are vying for 131 seats in the National Assembly. Ninety of them are contested under the system of proportional representation of political forces. The remaining 41 seats will be distributed in nationwide single-mandate constituencies, with 139 individual candidates running for the parliament under the first-past-the-post system.
Some 2,000 polling stations across the country opened at 8 a.m. and lines of voters could already be observed in some of them more than two hours later. The Central Election Commission (CEC) said voter turnout reached 15.8 percent as of 11 a.m. The CEC registered the highest turnout (20.3 percent) in the southeastern Syunik province.
President Serzh Sarkisian voted in the morning at an electoral precinct in central Yerevan where he arrived together with his wife Rita and one of his two daughters. “Naturally, I voted for Armenia’s progress,” he told journalists after casting ballots. “As for what I was thinking while voting, it’s clear: I want things to be calm, peaceful and in accordance with our laws both today and tomorrow and the day after, and I think that’s the prerequisite for change.”
Sarkisian also thanked the Armenian media for its coverage of the parliamentary race. He said all election contenders have been able to present their views and platforms to the electorate through media outlets.
Sarkisian has personally conducted the election campaign of his Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), which is looking to retain its control over the parliament. The HHK’s main challengers are the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), its junior partner in the governing coalition, as well as three major opposition groups.
Raffi Hovannisian, the leader of one of those groups, the Zharangutyun (Heritage) party, queued up with other voters at a polling station in Yerevan’s northern Nork-Marash district at around the same time. “I voted for our entire heritage, for the past and especially the future,” he told journalists.
Hovannisian declined to assess the conduct of the elections at that point. “I am confident that we will all wake in a totally new Armenia tomorrow morning,” he said.
Another opposition leader, Levon Ter-Petrosian of the Armenian National Congress (HAK), was also reluctant to evaluate the authorities' handling of the vote. “If the elections are normal, we will accept any outcome,” Ter-Petrosian said . “I expect a bright future for Armenia,” he added after voting in Yerevan.
Also casting a ballot was Robert Kocharian, another former president who governed the country from 1998-2008. Asked by RFE/RL’s Armenian service who he voted for, he said, “Unfortunately, I have no right to tell that. Otherwise I would tell. Let’s say I voted for programs.”
Kocharian, who criticized the current government this week, refused to predict the election outcome. “I’m no Nostradamus, let’s wait a little,” he said.
The ex-president also reiterated that he has not yet decided whether return to the political arena. Asked about his participation in next year’s presidential election, he said, “Let’s not talk about that subject.”