Polls opened in Armenia on Sunday for a snap parliamentary election called by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan amid growing anger after the country’s defeat in the war against arch-foe Azerbaijan.
Pashinyan, who has lost much of his appeal since last year’s military defeat, is hoping to renew his mandate but is in a tight race with former president Robert Kocharyan.
His critics accuse him of ceding swaths of territory in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan in a truce agreement that ended last year’s fighting and of failing to deliver on reform promises.
During an aggressive campaign marred by polarising rhetoric, Pashinyan said he expected his Civil Contract party to secure 60 percent of the vote, though some pollsters say those estimates are far-fetched.
The election in the South Caucasus country of around three million people will be watched by Armenia’s Soviet-era master Russia as well as Turkey, which backed Azerbaijan in last year’s six-week war over Nagorno-Karabakh.
Political observers say the election result is hard to predict with voter apathy running high and both Pashinyan and Kocharyan drawing massive crowds in the final days of the race.
A venomous campaign saw candidates exchange insults and threats and both frontrunners are expected to stage demonstrations after the election.
Pashinyan, 46, brandished a hammer at rallies, while Kocharyan, 66, said he would be ready to fight the prime minister in a duel and claimed he was planning to rig the vote.
‘Time for change’
Armenian President Armen Sarkissian, largely a ceremonial figure, decried attempts “to incite hatred and enmity” and urged law enforcement to prevent any violations.
“These elections are taking place in a difficult situation,” he said on Saturday. “They are of crucial importance for our state and people.”
Pashinyan says he had to agree to the Moscow-brokered truce with Azerbaijan in order to prevent further human and territorial losses.
More than 6,500 people were killed in the war, according to the latest estimates from Armenia and Azerbaijan.