December 8, 2018 / 8:14 PM / 2 days ago

Armenians vote in election testing revolution's power shift

YEREVAN (Reuters) - Armenians voted for a new parliament on Sunday as acting prime minister Nikol Pashinyan sought a stronger mandate, having been elected by lawmakers to the post in May following a peaceful revolution earlier this year.

Armenian acting prime minister Nikol Pashinyan casts his ballot during an early parliamentary election in Yerevan, Armenia December 9, 2018. REUTERS/Vahram Baghdasaryan/Photolure

Pashinyan came to power in the wake of weeks of mass protests against corruption and cronyism in the ex-Soviet republic. The former newspaper editor, who was jailed for fomenting unrest in 2008, marked a dramatic break from the cadre of rulers who have run Armenia since the late 1990s.

He stepped down in October so parliament could be dissolved ready for the early election.

“Our general goal for future is to strengthen the Armenian democracy institutionally,” Pashinyan told reporters after casting a ballot some hours before polls closed at 8 pm (1600 GMT).

Former high-ranking officials were sacked and some were arrested following the power change. And a court of appeal ordered the detention of former President Robert Kocharyan again on Friday on charges of attempting to overthrow the constitutional order.

He was first arrested in July but freed the following month and the case was sent to the appeals court. Kocharyan was Armenia’s second president, serving in the post from 1998 to 2008, when mass protests erupted over a disputed election.

The former ruling Republican Party, however, still dominates the current parliament that was elected in 2017.

Pashinyan has said he expects Sunday’s vote to lead to a legislature that better reflects the nation’s new political landscape.

Nine parties and two blocs are taking part in the election and opinion polls suggest the My Step Alliance, which includes Pashinyan’s Civil Contract Party, will easily win a parliamentary majority.

“I think our block may get around 80 percent of the vote,” a senior official, who did not want to be named, told Reuters.

Under Armenia’s constitution, 30 percent of seats in parliament must go to opposition parties.

After taking office, Pashinyan promised there would be no major shifts in Armenian foreign policy and has offered assurances he will not break with Moscow.

Armenia hosts a Russian military base and is a member of Russia-led military and economic alliances.

Pashinyan also suggested he would stick with existing policies on the long-running issue of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Slideshow (4 Images)

A mountainous part of Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh, is run by ethnic Armenians who declared independence from Baku during a conflict that broke out as the Soviet Union crumbled in 1991.

Though a ceasefire was agreed in 1994, Azerbaijan and Armenia still regularly accuse each other of conducting attacks around Nagorno-Karabakh and along the Azeri-Armenian border.

The Central Election Commission is expected to announce first preliminary results in early hours of Monday.

Writing by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Helen Popper, Simon Cameron-Moore and Raissa Kasolowsky

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