By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian has won a landslide victory in snap parliamentary elections called to end a political crisis that erupted after ethnic Armenian forces lost a six-week war against Azerbaijan last year and ceded territory in and around the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Preliminary results from the June 20 election showed that, with all precincts counted, Pashinian’s Civil Contract party won 53.9 percent of the vote, while former President Robert Kocharian’s Armenia Alliance – which is alleging election fraud — got 21 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.
“In the newly elected parliament, Civil Contract will have a constitutional majority and form a government,” he added later in a post on Facebook.
A large crowd of Pashinian supporters gathered at Yerevan’s main square in the evening on June 21 to celebrate his victory.
But Kocharian’s alliance said it would not recognize the results until alleged voting irregularities were addressed. The Armenia Alliance announced that it will ask the Constitutional Court to overturn the official elections results, saying it has “serious grounds to consider these elections illegitimate.”
In a statement on June 21, it accused authorities of illegally using their administrative leverage to try to keep Pashinian in power. It said the bloc’s activists have been harassed by the authorities during the election process.
Kocharian’s bloc accused government officials of “pre-planned falsification of the election results.”
However, international observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said the vote was “competitive and generally well-managed.”
“The vote count was assessed positively in most polling stations where it was observed and was characterized by a high level of transparency,” the OSCE said.
“Reconciliation and counting procedures were followed overall, and observers noted very few significant procedural errors or serious violations,” it added, noting that the election on the whole was “characterized by intense polarization and marred by increasingly inflammatory rhetoric among key contestants.”
The head of Armenia’s Central Electoral Commission, Tigran Mukuchian, said the election “on the whole” was conducted in line with local rules and regulations.
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 at around 24 percent support.
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.
Individual parties needed to cross the 5 percent threshold to gain entry to parliament, while blocs needed 7 percent.
However, Armenian law states that at least three parties must sit in parliament, making the “I Have The Honor” bloc, which won just over 5 percent, the third party that will be represented. It narrowly edged out Prosperous Armenia, a party led by business tycoon Gagik Tsarukian, which won slightly below 5 percent.
The results, if they hold, mean Pashinian’s party will control an even greater percentage of seats than the 50 percent needed to rule, since the votes of parties that don’t clear the threshold will be distributed among those that enter parliament.
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 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 elections 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.”