Armenians began voting on Sunday morning in parliamentary elections which President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK) hopes will extend its more than decade-long rule.
The HHK and eight other political parties and blocs are vying for at least 100 seats in the new Armenian parliament elected one year before Sarkisian serves out his final presidential term and Armenia officially becomes a parliamentary republic. The president has yet to clarify whether he plans to become prime minister or only stay on as HHK chairman after April 2018.
The elections are held under a system of proportional representation involving votes for not only the nine parties and blocs but also their individual candidates. More than 1,100 candidates representing these groups are running on an individual basis in 13 constituencies across the country.
Sarkisian declined to comment on his party’s chances of winning the vote after casting a ballot in a polling station in Yerevan. “Today is not the time to assess chances,” he told journalists. “Today is the time to get votes.”
Prime Minister Karen Karapetian, who led the HHK’s election campaign, claimed to be in a “very good” when he spoke to reporters outside another polling station. “I have no forecasts. I just want things to be peaceful and tolerant,” he said.
Businessman Gagik Tsarukian, whose alliance is widely seen as one of the election favorites, voted in his native village of Arinj just north of Yerevan. “Everything now depends on our people,” he said. “They are the ones who decide.”
Tsarukian insisted that he enjoys “the unconditional trust and faith” of Armenians but was reluctant to talk about possible post-election developments. In particular, he would not say whether he could form a coalition with the HHK. The tycoon also strongly denied a media report that met with Sarkisian on the eve of the ballot.
Defense Vigen Sargsian, another senior HHK figure, emphasized the fact that the elections are held under Armenia’s new Electoral Code which was amended last fall with the aim of preventing serious fraud and multiple voting in particular. The amendments jointly worked out by the HHK and the parliamentary opposition led to the introduction of electronic voter authentication devices in all 2,000 or so polling stations across Armenia.
The Armenian authorities also agreed to install web cameras in 1,500 of them. They were supposed to broadcast live online voting and ballot counting there. A special website created to provide those broadcasts was largely not accessible in the morning, however.
Armen Smbatian, a member of the Central Election Commission (CEC) blamed that on “technical problems” resulting from heavy Internet traffic. “They are natural because there have never been such online broadcasts in Armenia before,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Smbatian also said that in any case the voting and counting processes will be recorded by the cameras. Election contenders will be able to watch those videos, he added.
The European Union and the United States provided earlier this year around $10 million in funding for the purchase of this electronic equipment. They both have repeatedly stressed the importance of the proper conduct of the Armenian elections.
The vote is monitored by thousands of local observers and a 300-strong observer mission deployed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.