Armenian PM wins snap vote by landslide

AFP , Monday 10 Dec 2018

Nikol Pashinyan
Armenian acting prime minister Nikol Pashinyan votes during an early parliamentary election in Yerevan, Armenia December 9, 2018 (Photo: Reuters)

Armenia's acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has won a landslide victory in snap parliamentary elections, results showed Monday, cementing his authority months after sweeping to power in a peaceful revolution.

Pashinyan, a 43-year-old former journalist, has pledged to root out endemic corruption and address widespread poverty in the impoverished, landlocked ex-Soviet republic of three million people.

With all votes counted, the bloc led by Pashinyan's Civil Contract party had taken 70.43 percent of the vote, the central election commission said.

The Prosperous Armenia party led by influential oligarch and former arm wrestler Gagik Tsarukyan came a distant second with 8.27 percent.

Pashinyan hailed his victory on Monday morning, thanking the "mighty people" of Armenia.

"I am proud of you... Let's be courageous," he wrote on Facebook.

He became prime minister in May after spearheading weeks of peaceful anti-government rallies that ousted veteran leader Serzh Sarkisian.

But efforts at reform stalled in the face of opposition from Sarkisian's Republican Party, which dominated the National Assembly until Pashinyan resigned last month and triggered the snap vote.

- 'Unchallenged rule' -
The Republican Party took 4.7 percent in Sunday's elections, failing to clear the five percent threshold needed to make it into parliament.

The only other party to clear the threshold was the liberal pro-Western Bright Armenia, which garnered 6.37 percent of the vote.

As both Prosperous Armenia and Bright Armenia are seen as Pashinyan-friendly, the absence of an opposition party in newly elected parliament will be a trial run for Armenia's nascent democracy, analysts said.

"The elections have brought to completion the political change made by Pashinyan's 'velvet revolution.' Only pro-revolution parties made it to parliament," analyst Hakob Badalyan told AFP.

"The opposition is extremely weak and from now on public opinion will be the only counterweight to Pashinyan's unchallenged rule."

Analyst Gela Vasadze said: "Opposition parties were wiped off Armenia's political landscape and that's a challenge for Armenia's young democracy."

- 'Vote for positive change' -
Voters had expressed optimism about the political changes promised by Pashinyan.

"Thanks to the revolution, we will finally have fair elections," 72-year-old pensioner Parzik Avetisyan told AFP on election day.

"I voted for the positive change promised by Nikol," he added.

Turnout was 48.63 percent, the election commission said.

Previous elections have been marred by accusations of fraud but Pashinyan had last week promised "the best elections Armenia has ever seen".

Observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe were to give a press conference later on Monday assessing how the vote was carried out.

Parliamentary polls had not been scheduled to be held until 2022.

Analysts say Pashinyan sought new elections at the peak of his popularity.

In September, his bloc scored a landslide victory in a municipal vote, winning more than 80 percent in the capital Yerevan, where nearly 40 percent of the country lives.

While seeking reforms at home, Pashinyan also pursued a balanced foreign policy during his first five months in office.

He reassured Russian President Vladimir Putin that Armenia would remain Moscow's loyal ally but at the same time sought to charm Western leaders.

During an international summit in the capital Yerevan in October he danced traditional Armenian dances with French President Emmanuel Macron and wore matching socks with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Nine political parties and two electoral blocs were competing for mandates in the National Assembly.

Despite their poor showings, Prosperous Armenia and Bright Armenia parties will take up at least 30 percent of parliamentary seats under an electoral law aimed at preventing ruling parties from holding too much power.

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