Armenia is holding early parliamentary elections on Sunday, seven months after a war over Nagorno-Karabakh.
More than 20 parties and political blocs are contesting the election – more than ever before in the South Caucasus country – with 2.6 million people eligible to vote.
The vote is expected to be close, with the latest polls showing former president Robert Kocharian’s Armenia Alliance slightly ahead of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s Civil Contract party.
Voting began at 8 am (0400 GMT), with polling booths open for 12 hours.
“The outcome of the election is completely open. Anything can happen,” political analyst Alexander Iskandarjan told dpa in Yerevan, saying the mood in the country was heated.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan is struggling to keep his job after months of protests over his handling of the recent 44-day war with neighbouring Azerbaijan.
Last year, Azerbaijan recaptured large parts of the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which has been contested by the two countries for decades. More than 6,500 people died in the latest flare-up of violence.
Many Armenians blame Pashinyan, who came to power in 2018 in the wake of the country’s Velvet Revolution, for the loss of territory.
Pashinyan called the early election under pressure from the opposition.
The vote will also indirectly decide the future of the November 9 ceasefire agreement with Azerbaijan, which was brokered by Russia.
From Moscow’s perspective, the 46-year-old Pashinyan is a guarantor that the agreement will remain in place. This includes the stationing of some 2,000 Russian peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh.
President Armen Sargsyan urged citizens to cast their ballots speacefully, saying that it was unacceptable for “political and moral lines to be crossed, for the situation to escalate, and for hatred and enmity to be fomented,” in comments on Saturday.
Some 101 lawmakers are to be elected for five-year terms.
The first election results are expected late Sunday evening.
Photo Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan votes at a polling station in Yerevan, Armenia, 20 June 2021. Armenians headed to the polls for early parliamentary election in which candidates Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and former President Robert Kocharyan are considered the favorites. The early parliamentary election caused by a political crisis in the country after defeat in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with Azerbaijan. EPA-EFE/NAREK ALEKSANYAN