Armenian leader's party wins snap vote despite defeat in war

·3 min read

YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) — Results released Monday showed that the party of Armenia’s acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan won snap parliamentary elections which he called to ease anger over a peace deal he signed with Azerbaijan.

With all precincts counted, Pashinyan’s Civil Contract party won 53.9% of the vote. A bloc led by former President Robert Kocharyan was in a distant second place with about 21%, the election commission said Monday.

Pashinyan called the early election after months of protests demanding his resignation because of the peace deal that he signed to end six weeks of fighting with Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

The results indicate that Pashinyan, a 46-year-old former journalist who came to power after leading large street protests in 2018 that ousted his predecessor, continued to enjoy broad support despite the humiliating defeat and demonstrations demanding his resignation. When opposition protests swelled in Yerevan, he drew thousands into the streets to rally in his support.

The agreement saw Azerbaijan reclaim control over large parts of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding areas that had been held by Armenian forces for more than a quarter-century. Thousands of Armenians took to the streets in the capital of Yerevan to protest the deal as a betrayal of national interests.

Nagorno-Karabakh lies within Azerbaijan but had been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by the government in Yerevan since a separatist war ended in 1994, leaving the region and substantial surrounding territory in Armenian hands.

Hostilities flared in late September 2020, and the Azerbaijani military pushed deep into Nagorno-Karabakh and nearby areas in six weeks of fighting involving heavy artillery and drones that killed more than 6,000 people.

Pashinyan has defended the deal as a painful but necessary move that prevented Azerbaijan from overrunning the entire Nagorno-Karabakh region.

After calling the election, he stepped down from the premiership as required by law to allow the election to take place but remained the country’s leader as acting prime minister.

Sunday’s ballot involved 21 political parties and four electoral blocs. Despite the high emotions over the war defeat and the calls for Pashinyan to resign, election turnout was lukewarm — only 49% of eligible voters cast ballots.

A bloc affiliated with another former president, Serzh Sargsyan, came third with 5.2%, and another party had nearly 4%. Blocs need 7% to get into parliament and parties need 5%. However Armenia’s laws allow a party or bloc that came third to get seats if only two political forces pass the threshold to get into parliament.

Pashinyan's party showed a strong lead early into the count, and the acting prime minister claimed victory hours before all the precincts were counted.

“We have overcome these tough times, and now it’s time to stand up and go forward,” Pashinyan said in a televised address at the at party’s headquarters.

The Armenia Alliance led by his main contender Kocharyan said in a statement that it refuses to accept the results "until all problematic issues are clarified and doubts dispelled,” citing unspecified violations on election day. The bloc's spokesperson called it a “Pyrrhic victory" in comments to local media.

After the results from all precincts were released by Armenia's election commission, Pashinyan tweeted that “in the newly-elected parliament the Civil Contract party will have a constitutional majority," with at least 71 seats out of 105, "and will form a government led by me.”

In Russia — Armenia's major ally — Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Pashinyan won a “convincing victory.”

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said in a statement that the elections were “competitive and generally well-managed within a short timeframe.” The OSCE observers noted that they were “characterized by intense polarization and marred by increasingly inflammatory rhetoric among key contestants,” but assessed the election day and the vote count “positively overall.”

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Associated Press writer Daria Litvinova contributed from Moscow.