Armenian prime minister’s bloc wins parliamentary majority

YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) — A bloc led by Armenia’s relatively new prime minister trounced its political foes and won an overwhelming parliamentary majority in an early election, according to results released Monday.

Nikol Pashinian came to power in May after spearheading massive protests that forced his predecessor to step down. The 43-year-old former journalist pushed for the early vote held Sunday to win control of parliament, which was dominated by the rival Republican Party.

Pashinian’s My Step bloc won more than 70 percent of the vote in Sunday’s balloting. The Republican Party of former prime minister and president Serzh Sargsyan received about 4.7 percent of the vote, failing to reach the 5 percent threshold needed to be in parliament at all.

The pro-business Prosperous Armenia party placed second with about 8 percent, and Bright Armenia won just over 6 percent.

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The election’s outcome reflects Pashinian’s broad popularity. He has tapped into public anger over widespread poverty, high unemployment and rampant corruption in Armenia, a former Soviet nation of 3 million that borders Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Iran. The results will allow him to further consolidate power and advance his agenda.

During the monthlong election campaign, Pashinian blasted members of the old Armenian elite as corrupt and pledged to revive the economy, to create new jobs and to encourage Armenians living and working abroad to return home.

Election observers for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe praised the election Monday for “genuine competition,” saying the vote was “held with respect to fundamental freedoms and enjoyed broad public trust.” They said there was no vote-buying or pressure on voters, but expressed concern over “cases of inflammatory rhetoric online.”

Sargsyan’s Republican Party said voting followed a campaign marked by “intolerance to dissent and tough pressure,” leaving “deep divisive lines” in Armenian society.

Sargsyan served as Armenia’s president for a decade before a term limit forced him to step aside. He then took office as prime minister, a move his critics saw as an attempt to hold on to power.

Thousands of protesters led by Pashinian, then an opposition lawmaker, thronged the Armenian capital. Sargsyan resigned after only six days on the job.

Pashinian said he would use his “revolutionary majority” in parliament to push through reforms, including the abolition of taxes for small business and new incentives for foreign investors.

He pledged to expand ties with both Russia and the European Union. Armenia has no aspirations to join NATO and will stay in a Moscow-dominated security bloc, he said.

Armenia is highly dependent on Russia, which provides loans and serves as the main source of imports and the top export market. Russia has a military base in Armenia and sees relations with Yerevan as strategically important.

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Vladimir Isachenkov and Nataliya Vasilyeva contributed to this report from Moscow.

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