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Armenia Pro-Presidential Parties Win

YEREVAN, Armenia -- Pro-presidential parties have won a majority in Armenia's parliamentary elections, the country's election commission said Sunday, in a vote Western monitors described as a vast democratic improvement.

The expected big winner in the election -- viewed as a dress rehearsal for the presidential vote next year -- is Prime Minister Serzh Sarksyan's Republican Party, which received 33.8 percent with 99.99 percent of the vote counted, RIA-Novosti reported.

Prosperous Armenia, a comparatively new pro-presidential party, had 15.1 percent of the vote, followed by Dashnatsutyun, with 13.1 percent.

Opposition parties Orinats Yerkir and Heritage won 7 percent and 6 percent, respectively.

The country voted Saturday to fill 131 seats in the parliament -- 90 to be chosen according to proportions that parties get nationwide and 41 in single-mandate contests. Final turnout figures showed roughly 1.37 million people voted, a 59.4 percent turnout, election officials said.

Sarksyan, 52, is a former welder and a trusted lieutenant of Armenian President Robert Kocharyan, who steps down as leader next year. He has said he would enter a presidential election if his party asked him.

"We were not expecting to get more than 50 percent of the vote as we had worthy opponents," said Armen Ashotyan, a Republican lawmaker. "We are satisfied."

International observers, who said the 2003 vote fell well short of democratic standards, praised Saturday's elections as a step forward.

"The Armenian elections were an improvement from previous elections," said Tone Tingsgaard, from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe monitoring team. "Some issues remain and more is needed to consolidate this democracy."

Observers highlighted the close relationship between businesses and politicians as a concern and an inadequate electoral complaints procedure. One of the pro-presidential parties is run by a millionaire businessman.

A fringe opposition group that wants to start proceedings to impeach the president and says he has failed the country with his policies is not expected to win enough votes to clear the 5 percent barrier and enter the parliament.

Nikol Pashinyan, one of the leaders of the Impeachment party, said there had been voting violations, and he promised street demonstrations.

"We do not recognize the result of the election and our struggle will shift to another stage," he said.

Impeachment supporters and police clashed in the election run-up, but Sunday the streets of Armenia's capital were quiet. Impeachment has a few thousand supporters.

Simmering tensions burst to the surface last month when gunmen tried to kill a senior member of the Republican Party, and two blasts ripped through the offices of another pro-presidential party.

The violence has revived memories of a 1999 shootout in the parliament that killed the speaker and the prime minister.

(The Moscow Times 14.v.07)

 
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