May 12 2007
Armenia goes to the polls
Thirty per cent of Armenians
live on less than $2 a day [AFP]
Armenians are voting in parliamentary elections in what is seen as a
test for democracy ahead of a presidential election in 2008.
Since Armenia gained independence with the collapse of the Soviet
Union in 1991, no election has been judged fair.
Surveys show Armenians want reform, but pro-government parties are
expected to win Saturday’s poll.
An overwhelming majority of Armenians support radical change.
More than 20 opposition parties are running and analysts say these
divisions have scuttled chances of defeating two pro-government
parties – the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HKK) and the
Prosperous Armenia party.
Opposition leaders claim the vote will be rigged and are already
planning demonstrations on Sunday to pressure the government to
overturn the results.
Cuts in assistance
About 2.3 million of Armenia’s three million people are registered to
vote in elections for 131 seats in the national assembly.
Hundreds of local and international observers are monitoring the
vote, including more than 300 from the Organisation for Security and
Cooperation in Europe.
The US and EU have repeatedly warned of negative consequences if no
improvement is seen over past elections, including potential cuts of
foreign aid and the scaling back of relations.
Cuts in foreign assistance could be disastrous for Armenia, where
more than 30 per cent of people live on less than $2 a day.
The election is also seen as a dress rehearsal for a presidential
vote due next year after Robert Kocharian steps down at the end of
his second term.
The HKK, led by Kocharian’s chosen successor, Serzh Sarkisian, the
prime minister, is expected to take first place.
Kocharian has called on voters to support pro-government parties,
saying that if the opposition comes to power it will bring
Kocharian said on Armenian television: "If the two most important
governmental institutions – the president and the parliament – start
a confrontation, the people will be the ones to suffer."
Polling will close at 7pm (1500 GMT), with preliminary results
expected within 24 hours.