Pro-Russian Armenian president set to retain power after vote

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Armenia’s pro-Russian president is set to retain a tight grip on power with victory in the first parliamentary elections since the ex-Soviet nation voted to become a parliamentary republic.

According to results from 97 per cent of the country’s precincts, President Serzh Sargsyan’s Republican Party had won 49.2 per cent of votes at Sunday’s election, according to data from the central electoral commission. An opposition alliance had won 27.3 per cent.

The ballot is the first since a 2015 referendum that pushed through constitutional changes that will reduce the authority of the presidency in 2018, when Mr Sargsyan’s second five-year term in office ends, and enhance the power of parliament and the prime minister.

His political opponents say the reforms, which were proposed by the president, were orchestrated to allow the 62-year-old to retain power into a second decade, either by shifting roles to become prime minister or wielding authority in the background as ruling party leader.

While taking steps to deepen relations with the EU in recent years, Armenia relies heavily on Moscow for aid, investment and trade. The landlocked country has felt the chill from Russia’s recent economic contraction, with GDP shrinking 0.2 per cent last year from a 3 per cent expansion in 2015.

“According to the elections’ early results, the Republican Party has every chance of forming the new government,” a spokesman for the Republican party told reporters.

Nationalist party Dashnaktsutyun, the ruling party’s current coalition partner, was also set to re-enter parliament. If the two parties agree to extend their cooperation, as is likely, Mr Sargsyan will have the right to appoint a prime minister.

Turnout was 60.86 percent, the electoral commission said.

Mr Sargysan had billed the vote as “an important stage on the path of democratization of my nation since constitutional reform.”

“We have set a task to make resolute step toward developing a European-style democracy and strengthening democratic institutions,” Mr Sargsyan said last week. “We will do everything to hold elections in conformity with high international standards.”

The EU offered financial and technical support to Sunday’s ballot, and its representative in Yerevan last week warned of “allegations of voter intimidation, attempts to buy votes, and the systemic use of administrative resources to aid certain competing parties.”

A crowd-sourced website run by Transparency International had recorded more than 2,000 voting violations by Monday morning, in an election monitored by observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Mr Sargsyan’s administration was rocked by mass public protests last year, and “used excessive and disproportionate force against peaceful protesters, assaulted journalists, and pressed unjustified criminal charges against protest leaders and participants,” according to a report by Human Rights Watch.

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