Armenia’s ruling party is poised to win parliamentary elections today as the country votes in the first balloting for the legislature since a 2008 presidential vote that triggered deadly protests.
President Serzh Sargsyan’s Republican Party may receive 41 percent of the votes today, compared with 33 percent for the junior coalition party Prosperous Armenia, according to Brussels-based European Friends of Armenia. Exit polls are due after voting ends at 8 p.m. in Yerevan, the capital. The two parties haven’t said if they would renew their alliance.
Ten people died in clashes between police and protesters after Sargsyan defeated Levon Ter-Petrosyan, a former president, in the 2008 vote that the opposition claimed was rigged. Ter- Petrosyan’s Armenian National Congress opposition bloc threatened to protest again if there is election fraud. The Republican party being forced to form a new coalition may help foster democracy, according to Lilit Gevorgyan, an analyst at IHS Global Insight in London.
The election “is likely to bring an end to the absolute parliamentary majority of the presidential party,” Gevorgyan wrote in an e-mail. “The vote could serve as a model for the wider region for peaceful transition from the highly centralized political system to a more pluralistic political landscape.”
Rule of Law, a third coalition party, had 5.4 percent support, the opposition Heritage party was at 6.5 percent, Armenian Revolutionary Federation at 6 percent and Armenian National Congress had 4.3 percent support, according to the April 17-22 poll by European Friends of Armenia, which surveyed 1,600 voting-age adults. The margin of error is 2.4 percentage points.
Ter-Petrosyan returning to parliament may help quell discontent, limiting potential demonstrations, Richard Giragosyan, the director of the Yerevan-based Regional Studies Center, said in a phone interview.
Armenia, which borders Iran and Turkey, is embroiled in a 20-year territorial dispute with neighboring Azerbaijan that threatens to provoke renewed conflict in the South Caucasus, risking oil supplies from the region. Sargsyan, 57, was born in the Nagorno-Karabakh region that’s at the center of the feud.
Tensions are rising over Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian- majority territory previously under Azeri control, prompting a “spiraling arms race” between the two former Soviet states, the International Crisis Group in Brussels said in February.
Oil-exporting Azerbaijan and landlocked Armenia fought a war over Nagorno-Karabakh after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 that left tens of thousands of people dead and more than 1 million displaced. The territory remains a potential flashpoint in a region where Russia in 2008 fought a five-day war with Georgia after separatist tensions flared up.
Surging oil prices allowed Azerbaijan to double military spending to more than $2 billion last year and emboldened Aliyev to threaten the use of military force to regain Nagorno- Karabakh. Russia, which brokered a cease-fire in 1994, last year failed to bridge the divide when President Dmitry Medvedev met Sargsyan and Azeri leader Ilham Aliyev to persuade them to agree on a roadmap for resolving the status of the disputed territory.
Armenia, a former Soviet nation of 3.3 million, became independent in 1991. The economy is expected to expand 4.2 percent in 2012, Finance Minister Vache Gabrielyan said last month. Inflation slowed to 1.9 percent in April, after accelerating to 7.7 percent in 2011, mainly on higher costs on food.
The government expects a boost to the economy from the possible reopening of its border with Turkey, which closed it in 1993 to protest Armenia’s occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh. The two nations have yet to ratify a 2009 U.S.-supported agreement to re-establish ties.
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