YEREVAN, ARMENIA - Amenia's ruling party won slightly less than 50 percent of the vote in a parliamentary election, officials said on Monday.
Sunday's vote, which was the nation's first since the former Soviet republic changed its constitution to expand power of parliament and the prime minister's office, allowed President Serzh Sargsyan's Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) to claim a majority of seats.
HHK claimed 49 percent of the vote, with businessman Gagik Tsarukian's opposition coalition trailing with 27 percent, and two other parties getting 5 percent — just enough to get seats in parliament — according to data released by the Central Election Commission. Official results are expected to be released later this week.
Critics have said the recent constitutional amendments are part of Sargsyan's efforts to retain control of the country after he steps down in 2018 due to term limits. If his party controls parliament, he could be appointed prime minister after that.
Sargsyan and his supporters have vigorously disputed that claim.
The observer mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) called Sunday's vote "well administered and fundamental freedoms were generally respected.'' OSCE officials, however, did acknowledge allegations of vote-buying and intimidation around the country.
Sona Ayvazyan, executive director of Transparency International Armenian, told VOA's Armenian Service, “Our observers recorded many violations related to the failures of technical equipment" such as electronic fingerprint scanners.
"These failures were not intentional, I assume," she added. "However, in terms of frequency, these failures were most frequent. ... We [also] saw the increase of pressure on and bribery of the voters."
Armenian Helsinki Committee Director Avet Ishkhanyan told VOA about widespread bribery.
"Prior to the voting, everything was already predetermined,” he said. "People were already registered as ‘units,’ and each of them was supposed to be bribed or threatened to vote for ruling candidates.
"What distinguishes this voting from previous elections is that, prior to this ... many people’s votes had been already bought by bribes, so there was no need for widespread violations during the ballot-counting process," Ishkhanyan added. "But is that a step forward? I would rather say these are the saddest elections, which illustrate final failure of civil and political institutes in Armenia.”
An RFE/RL reporter who was investigating allegations of vote-buying was attacked a few hours after polls opened.
The incident occurred after Sisak Gabrielian, a reporter with RFE/RL’s Armenian Service, saw citizens leaving an HHK office in Yerevan’s Kond neighborhood with money in their hands.
People inside the campaign office, who refused to identify themselves, said it was salary money and that citizens were not receiving "election bribes."
Gabrielian said he was then roughed up by ruling party loyalists, receiving minor injuries.
This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Armenian Service Some information is from AP.