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Armenian Opposition Bloc Wins Enough Votes To Enter Parliament


Voting Starts In Armenian Parliamentary Elections
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WATCH: Armenians cast their votes in parliamentary elections on May 6.

Armenia's Central Election Commission says President Serzh Sarkisian's governing Republican party took 44.05 percent of the vote after all ballots from the contest on May 6 were counted.

The victory puts the party in a commanding position in parliament and boosts Sarkisian ahead of presidential polls next year.

The junior partner in the country's current governing coalition, the Prosperous Armenia party, came in second with just under 31 percent.

The opposition Armenian National Congress bloc also won enough votes to enter parliament, according to preliminary results. Officials said the party had obtained more than 7 percent of the vote -- surpassing the minimum 7 percent threshold needed to hold seats in the legislature.

A number of parties competing against Sarkisian's Republicans have already cried foul.

Speaking at a joint news conference held shortly before the release of the first official figures late on May 6, senior representatives of the Prosperous Armenia party, the Armenian National Congress, and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation brushed aside as “extremely incredible” the election commission's claim that more than 62 percent of eligible voters took part in the elections, accusing the authorities of grossly inflating the turnout.

In a joint statement, they said that figure is “only deepening suspicions regarding the legal course of the elections.”

Armenian National Congress coordinator Levon Zurabian condemned the elections as "disgraceful" and marred by vote-rigging. He said his party and other opposition forces would proceed with a planned rally on May 8 in the capital's Liberty Square.

The Armenian National Congress is led by former President Levon Ter-Petrossian.

Around 2.5 million people in the country of 3.3 million were eligible to vote in the elections, which were contested by eight parties and one bloc.

Unemployment, Poverty, Emigration

Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe called the vote competitive and largely peaceful -- although some shortcomings in the democratic process undermined confidence in the poll.

An OSCE statement on May 7 said that while freedoms of assembly and expression were respected in the campaign, the vote suffered from a "general lack of confidence in the integrity of the process amongst political parties and the general public."

Campaigning mainly focused on unemployment, poverty, and emigration rather than Armenia's disputes with neighboring Azerbaijan.

The government had promised an orderly election for the 131-seat National Assembly, hoping to avoid any turmoil like the incidents of 2008, when battles between riot police and opposition supporters left 10 people dead.

Russian Central Election Commission member Siyabshakh Shapiyev, who is observing the vote, was quoted earlier on May 6 as saying that voting had been proceeding smoothly and that no violations had been observed.

On May 4, the last day of the election campaign, scores of gas-filled balloons exploded at a Republican party rally in Yerevan led by Sarkisian, unleashing a fireball into the air and injuring around 150 people.

The OSCE said Armenia's 2007 parliamentary ballot fell short of international standards.

Journalist Attacked

In related news, RFE/RL correspondent Elina Chilingarian was attacked by a young man outside a polling station in the Armenian capital.

The man approached Chilingarian while she was videotaping busloads of people arriving to vote in the southern Erebuni district of Yerevan on May 6.

The video shows the man approach the reporter. He asks Chilingarian if she is filming him, before knocking the camera out of her hands.

A police complaint has been filed and the matter is now under investigation.

Chilingarian was not hurt in the incident.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Armenian Service, Interfax, and AP
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