Twenty-five political parties and alliances vied for at least 101 seats in Armenia’s new parliament to be distributed under the system of proportional representation.
The parties had to win at least 5 percent of the vote in order to be represented in the National Assembly and potentially form a new government. The legal vote threshold for alliances is set at 7 percent.
The Central Election Commission (CEC) chairman, Tigran Mukuchian, said the elections are monitored by 483 foreign and more than 8,700 local observers.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and other senior officials have pledged to ensure that the vote is free and fair. Their political opponents have questioned these assurances.
Pashinian’s and his Civil Contract party’s main opposition challengers are two alliances led by former Presidents Robert Kocharian and Serzh Sarkisian and the two opposition parties represented in the Armenia’s outgoing parliament elected in 2018.
Voting at nearly 2,000 polling stations across the country began at 8 a.m. local time and was due to end at 8 p.m. More than 12 percent of Armenia's 2.6 million eligible voters cast ballots as of 11 a.m., according to the CEC.
Voting followed a tense election campaign marked by Pashinian’s bitter verbal exchanges with Kocharian, Sarkisian and their political allies.
Pashinian declined to not speak to journalists after casting his ballot at a polling station in Yerevan. He went there with his wife and four children.
Kocharian voted in another electoral precinct in the Armenian capital. “I first and foremost voted for dignified peace and an economic upswing,” he said afterwards.
The ex-president again expressed confidence that his Hayastan (Armenia) bloc will win the elections.
The 12-day campaign also saw mutual accusations of foul play and arrests of a dozen opposition candidates and activists accused of bullying or bribing voters.
Sarkisian’s Pativ Unem bloc said police raided some of its campaign offices and rounded up dozens of its activists on Saturday in what it denounced as a harassment campaign ordered by the Armenian government.
Law-enforcement authorities reported three election-related arrests on Saturday. They said a Pativ Unem candidate in southeastern Vayots Dzor province and two other local residents linked to him are suspected of handing out vote bribes. The opposition bloc denied the allegations.
Artur Vanetsian, who tops the list of Pativ Unem’s election candidates, claimed after voting at a Yerevan polling station that the authorities are making last-ditch illegal efforts to prevent the ruling party’s defeat.
Kocharian’s Hayastan bloc said on Sunday morning that its campaign activists are also taken to police stations in the country “on the basis of false reports.”
A spokesman for the bloc, Aram Vardevanian, said the National Security Service has secured court permission to search Hayastan’s campaign offices in southeastern Syunik province. He accused the authorities of trying to “paralyze” the bloc’s election-related activities in Syunik.
Meanwhile, Edmon Marukian, the leader of the opposition Bright Armenia Party, predicted that the voting process will be “very calm” and that no single political force will win a majority of the parliament seats.
Speaking to reporters, Marukian described the elections as an opportunity to “restore internal political conciliation and solidarity in the country.”
Pashinian called the snap elections in March following renewed street protests by opposition groups blaming him for Armenia’s defeat in the six-week war with Azerbaijan stopped by a Russian-brokered ceasefire on November 10.