Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan claimed victory in snap parliamentary elections he called in an effort to defuse a political crisis after a defeat in war against Azerbaijan in November.

Armenia's acting Prime Minister and leader of Civil Contract party Nikol Pashinyan visits a polling station to cast his vote during the snap parliamentary election in Yerevan, Armenia on June 20, 2021.
Armenia's acting Prime Minister and leader of Civil Contract party Nikol Pashinyan visits a polling station to cast his vote during the snap parliamentary election in Yerevan, Armenia on June 20, 2021. (Reuters)

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan's party has won 53.9 percent of the vote in snap parliamentary polls, far ahead of ex-leader Robert Kocharyan's alliance with 21 percent, according to results based on ballots from 100 percent of precincts counted.

Pashinyan hours earlier claimed victory based on early results on Monday.

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Kocharyan contests results

Kocharyan's electoral bloc said it would not recognise Pashinyan's quick claim to victory, which came when just 30 percent of precincts had been counted.

"Hundreds of signals from polling stations testifying to organised and planned falsifications serve as a serious reason for lack of trust," the bloc said in a statement, adding it would not "recognise" the results until the "violations" were studied.

Earlier on Sunday evening, the general prosecutor's office said it had received 319 reports of violations. It said it had opened six criminal probes, all of which concerned bribes during campaigning.

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'Against old ways'

The vote was being followed by Armenia's Soviet-era master Russia, arch-foe Azerbaijan and Turkey, which backed Azerbaijan in the six-week war over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh last year.

Despite stifling heat, nearly 50 percent of around 2.6 million eligible voters cast their ballots, election officials said. Some observers said turnout in the South Caucasus country of three million people was higher than expected.

During a campaign marred by polarising rhetoric, Pashinyan had said he expected his party to secure 60 percent of the vote.

Election officials said the vote was conducted in accordance with Armenia's legislation.

Kocharyan was himself accused of rigging a presidential election in favour of his hand-picked ally and presiding over a deadly crackdown on protesters in 2008.

Armenia won international praise for holding its first free and fair vote under Pashinyan in 2018.

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Conflicting opinions

On the streets of Yerevan on Sunday, Armenians voiced conflicting opinions about Pashinyan.

Voter Anahit Sargsyan said the prime minister, who spearheaded peaceful protests against corrupt elites in 2018, deserved another chance.

She said she feared the return of the old guard whom she accused of plundering the country.

"I voted against a return to the old ways," said the 63-year-old former teacher.

Criticisms over war defeat

Critics blame Pashinyan for having ceded territory in and around Karabakh to Azerbaijan in a humiliating truce agreement, and accuse him of having failed to deliver reforms.

Pashinyan has said he had to agree to the Moscow-brokered peace deal with Azerbaijan in order to prevent further human and territorial losses.

More than 6,000 people were killed last fall in the six weeks of fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh.

In 1991, the Armenian military occupied Nagorno-Karabakh, or Upper Karabakh, internationally recognised as Azerbaijani territory, and seven adjacent regions.

On September 27, 2020, the Armenian army launched attacks on civilians and Azerbaijani forces and violated several humanitarian ceasefire agreements.

During a subsequent 44-day conflict which ended under a deal signed on November 10, Azerbaijan liberated several cities and nearly 300 settlements and villages from Armenian occupation.

Venomous campaign

Besides Kocharyan, who hails from Karabakh and was in power between 1998 and 2008, two other leaders of post-Soviet Armenia backed parties in the race.

During a venomous campaign, candidates exchanged insults and threats. Pashinyan brandished a hammer at rallies, while Kocharyan said he would be ready to fight the prime minister in a duel.

A record four electoral blocs and 21 parties ran for election but only a handful are expected to win seats in parliament.

A winning party needs to obtain at least 50 percent of seats plus one and can be assigned additional seats in order to form a government.

READ MORE: Armenia accepts defeat in fight over occupied Azerbaijan territories

Source: TRTWorld and agencies