Armenia barreled toward renewed political crisis on June 21 after Acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian claimed victory in a snap election and the main opposition alliance rejected the outcome.
Preliminary results from the June 20 election showed that with nearly half the country’s precincts counted, Pashinian’s Civil Contract party was leading with 58.5 percent of the vote, while former President Robert Kocharian’s Armenia Alliance had 18.8 percent.
“The people of Armenia gave our Civil Contract party a mandate to lead the country and personally me to lead the country as prime minister,” Pashinian announced in the early hours of June 21.
“We already know that we won a convincing victory in the elections and we will have a convincing majority in parliament,” he added.
He urged his supporters to flood Yerevan’s main square in the evening.
Moments later, Kocharian’s alliance said it would not recognize the results until alleged voting irregularities were addressed.
“Hundreds of signals from polling stations testifying to organized and planned falsifications serve as a serious reason for lack of trust,” the bloc said in a statement.
Opinion polls before the election showed the contest to be mainly a neck-and-neck race between Pashinian’s party and Kocharian’s newly created alliance, with each mustering about 24 percent support.
The election was held against the backdrop of already flaring tensions following a monthslong political crisis fueled by the defeat of Armenian forces against Azerbaijan in a six-week war last autumn over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Pashinian, who stepped down as required by law to allow the election to take place but remains the country’s leader, called the early election in response to sustained opposition rallies and dissent within the state over his handling of the war that ended with a Moscow-brokered cease-fire in November.
The fragile peace deal restored Baku’s sovereignty over a chunk of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding districts that had been controlled by ethnic Armenian forces since a war in the early 1990s. The defeat stunned Armenians and prompted months of recriminations.
During the election campaign, emotionally charged threats and insults raised concerns of postelection violence, especially in the event of allegations that the result is rigged or otherwise challenged. More than a dozen opposition candidates and activists were detained during the campaign, accused of bullying or bribing voters.
On the eve of the election, the largely ceremonial President Armen Sarkisian urged his compatriots to remain peaceful, saying it would be unacceptable that “political and moral boundaries are crossed, that the situation escalates and hatred and enmity are fomented.”
A total of 21 parties and four alliances took part in the election. The Central Election Commission said that nearly 50 percent of around 2.6 million eligible voters cast their ballots.
Prosperous Armenia, a party led by business tycoon Gagik Tsarukian, was hovering around the 5 percent threshold to enter parliament. A bloc affiliated with another former president also was at around 5 percent, but blocs need 7 percent to enter parliament.
“On the whole, the election was conducted in accordance with the country’s legislation,” said the head of the Central Electoral Commission, Tigran Mukuchian.
However, Daniel Ioannisian, a representative of the Independent Observer organization monitoring Armenia’s early parliamentary elections, said there had been allegations of vote buying and other illegal attempts to influence the vote.
Ioannisian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service that most of the attempts concerned the Armenia Alliance, but he said there were some cases involving smaller parties.
International election observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) are schedule to provide their assessment of the vote later on June 21.
With reporting by AFP, Interfax, Reuters, and RFE/RL’s Armenian Service