Armenia votes in snap polls to cement reform drive
Parliamentary elections were triggered years ahead of schedule by reformist leader Nikol Pashinyan
Armenians on Sunday started voting in parliamentary elections triggered years ahead of schedule by reformist leader Nikol Pashinyan, who is aiming to exert his political authority in the former Soviet republic.
The former journalist, 43, became prime minister in May after leading weeks of peaceful anti-government rallies that ousted veteran leader Serzh Sarkisian.
However, Mr Pashinyan's reform drive stalled for months in the face of opposition from Mr Sarkisian's ruling party.
After weeks of political manoeuvring by the prime minister and more street protests, parliament was dissolved last month.
Mr Pashinyan's party is expected to win a majority in the new legislature, allowing him to push ahead with his campaign to reshape the country's political landscape and spark an "economic revolution".
"We will turn Armenia into an industrial, high-tech, export-oriented country," Mr Pashinyan told supporters at a rally last week, pledging "the best elections Armenia has ever seen" and ruling out ballot stuffing and voter intimidation.
Last month, Mr Pashinyan stepped down as prime minister to pave the way for snap elections under a clause in Armenian law. He is currently acting prime minister.
Observers expect him to return to the post with his party in control of parliament.
Parliamentary elections were not scheduled to be held until 2022.
Mr Pashinyan pledged to root out endemic corruption and address widespread poverty, earning him supporters in the impoverished landlocked nation of about three million people.
"He organised this revolution well and intelligently," construction worker Georgi Grigoryan said of Mr Pashinyan. "We all hope that now everything will work out well."
On foreign policy, Mr Pashinyan said Armenia will "further strengthen (our) strategic alliance with Russia and, at the same time, step up co-operation with the United States and European Union".
Analysts say Mr Pashinyan sought new elections while he is at the peak of his popularity.
In September, his bloc won a landslide victory in municipal elections, winning more than 80 per cent of the vote in the capital Yerevan, where nearly 40 per cent of the population live.
"The elections were called on the wave of a revolutionary euphoria," analyst Gevorg Poghosyan said.
"But after the polls, that sentiment will inevitably weaken and Pashinyan and his team will face a reality check."
While many in Armenia have high expectations, others have already started to complain about slow progress.
"I will be voting for Pashinyan, because I believe he will jail all the corrupt officials who were pillaging the state for many years," Iveta Bakhshyan, a 43-year-old flower vendor in Yerevan, said.
Meanwhile, Yerevan pensioner Simon Martirosyan, 67, said he will not vote for Mr Pashinyan's party because "they failed to achieve any tangible results".
"Nothing has changed in my life during the seven months of Pashinyan's rule, people are not better off," he said.
Nine political parties and two electoral blocs are competing to control the 101-seat legislature.
A party needs at least five per cent of the vote to be elected, while an electoral bloc must clear a seven-per cent barrier.
Updated: January 17, 2019 02:57 PM