The ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) was on course to score a landslide victory in Sunday’s parliamentary elections amid opposition allegations of vote buying and other irregularities.
The government-controlled Central Election Commission (CEC) said early on Monday that with about 75 percent of the ballots counted, the HHK won 49.2 percent of the vote. This should be enough for it to have an absolute majority in Armenia’s new parliament and stay in power.
According to the preliminary vote results released by the CEC, businessman Gagik Tsarukian’s alliance was a distant second with 27.6 percent, followed by the opposition Yelk alliance (7.5 percent) and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutyun (6.7 percent), the HHK’s junior coalition partner.
The five other election contenders looked set to fail to pass the 5 percent and 7 percent vote thresholds for being represented in the National Assembly set for political parties and alliances respectively. They included former President Levon Ter-Petrosian’s opposition Congress-HZhK alliance (1.6 percent) and the ORO alliance led by former Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian (2.1 percent).
Opposition forces as well as independent election observers reported various irregularities, notably vote buying, throughout Sunday’s voting. The Citizen Observer, a coalition of Armenian civic groups that deployed over 3,000 monitors across the country, alleged numerous instances of electoral violation and manipulation. Those included vote buying, voter intimidation, and the presence of unauthorized persons inside polling stations.
“As a result, the issue of public trust in the elections has not been solved,” the Citizen Observer said in a statement released on Sunday evening. It said the elections did not mark “an improvement of electoral processes in the country.”
The elections were also monitored by more than 300 European observers mostly deployed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. They were due to release on Monday afternoon their preliminary findings that will be crucial for the international legitimacy of the vote.
The opposition forces running for parliament did not officially react to the conduct of the elections and their likely outcome by the early hours of the morning. But some of their leaders cried foul shortly after the closure of the polls.
Levon Zurabian, a leader of the Congress-HZhK, charged that the Armenian authorities held “yet another disgraceful election.” Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am), Zurabian accused the HHK of handing out vote bribes. He also claimed that government loyalists systematically breached the secrecy of the ballot to make sure that bribed or intimidated citizens vote for the HHK.
Aram Sarkisian, a Yelk leader, likewise alleged “disgraceful violations” and “widespread vote bribes in comments to 1in.am. “We will probably make a statement in the morning,” he said.
Armen Ashotian, a deputy chairman of the ruling HHK, insisted, however, that the elections marked a “leap forward” in Armenia’s democratization. No more than 10,000 votes might have been rigged, he said, adding that this could not have had a serious impact on the election results.
According to the CEC, almost 1.58 million Armenians making up nearly 61 percent of the country’s eligible voters cast ballots on Sunday.
The HHK spokesman, Eduard Sharmazanov, also declared at a late-night news conference that the vote was “democratic, transparent and competitive.” Citing the first election results, Sharmazanov also said that the party headed by President Serzh Sarkisian is well placed to again form Armenia’s government. He said the HHK is ready to extend its power-sharing arrangement with Dashnaktsutyun but would not be drawn on its other potential coalition partners.
The HHK leadership has repeatedly stated that if the party wins the vote Prime Minister Karen Karapetian, who was appointed in September, will retain his post at least until Sarkisian completes his final presidential term in April 2018. Sarkisian has yet to clarify whether he will replace Karapetian after the end of his presidency.