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Voters Go To The Polls In Armenian Capital

Yerevan Mayor Gagik Beglarian speaks to reporters after casting his ballot.
(RFE/RL) -- Voters in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, are going to the polls for municipal elections, the first time since independence in 1991 that Yerevan's mayor will be elected by voters. The president previously made the appointment for the four-year term.

The main opposition movement is seeking to gain an important foothold on power in the vote -- the first significant multiparty ballot since last year's presidential election was marred by deadly violence.

At stake are 56 seats in the newly formed Council of Elders empowered to elect Yerevan's mayor.

Under constitutional amendments adopted in 2005, the seats are contested under the system of proportional representation, with six political parties and one alliance in the running.

They need to garner at least 7 percent and 9 percent of the vote, respectively, in order to be represented in the municipal assembly.

A party or bloc winning over 40 percent of the vote would automatically see its top candidate become mayor.

Opinion polls show the leading candidate is incumbent Mayor Gagik Beglarian, who heads the list of the ruling Republican Party.

But the main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) is still hoping it can win enough seats for its leader, former President Levon Ter-Petrossian, to be elected mayor.

Ahead of the vote, Ter-Petrossian's supporters feared foul play by the authorities despite a pledge the election would be free and fair.

"This election is very important for every Yerevan resident, and my expectations are very high," Beglarian said after voting. "Let it be a free and fair election."

For his part, President Serzh Sarkisian refused to take questions from journalist after he cast his ballot, saying, "Today is a day of silence." Ter-Petrossian also declined to comment as he voted.

Fears Of Violence, Ballot Rigging

RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports that hundreds of local government officials and other people were brought to Yerevan from the country's second- and third-largest cities, Gyumri and Vanadzor, by minibuses and cars.

The ruling party called the move a show of support for its election victory, but there was suspicion that many of the travelers were ordered or paid to participate in the polls.

The international community is monitoring the ballot to see if Armenia keeps its commitments on democratic reforms. Observers include representatives from the Council of Europe and the European Union.

The vote has raised concerns of a repeat of the violence after the February 2008 presidential election that saw 10 people killed in clashes between police and opposition supporters.

Ter-Petrossian and his supporters accused the authorities of rigging the vote to guarantee a win for Sarkisian's party.

Preliminary results are expected within 24 hours after the vote and the final results are to be announced during the next seven days.

RFE/RL's Armenian Service contributed to this report