Armenians will elect a new Parliament today in a closely fought race between the ruling party and a former coalition partner that heralds the start of a parliamentary system of government.
Sunday’s election is expected to be a close race between the majority-wielding Republican Party of Armenia, backed by President Serzh Sarkisian, and an alliance of businessman and former world champion arm wrestler Gagik Tsarukyan’s Prosperous Armenia party.
The poll election is a key democratic test for the small landlocked nation of 2.9 million, which has no history of transfers of power to an opposition through the ballot box.
Under controversial constitutional reforms, parliament, rather than voters, will elect the president for the first time, and the office of Prime Minister will become more powerful, reducing the presidency to a largely ceremonial role.
The opposition says the changes are a ruse to let President Serzh Sarksyan slip into an enhanced Prime Ministerial role at the head of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) when his presidential term ends in 2018. Sarksyan, 62, denies the reforms were designed to extend his political career.
The outcome of today’s vote was difficult to predict, with polls showing the RPA neck-and-neck with an opposition alliance led by wealthy businessman Gagik Tsarukyan.
The campaign has already been marred by opposition claims that the government is preparing mass electoral fraud.
Ahead of the vote, the European Union delegation to Armenia and the US embassy said in a joint statement that they were “concerned by allegations of voter intimidation, attempts to buy votes, and the systemic use of administrative resources to aid certain competing parties”. Media agencies