The elections were called by the outgoing Prime Minister following protests over the country’s defeat in a war with Azerbaijan last year.
Voting opened on Sunday in Armenia for early parliamentary elections called by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan amid growing anger over the country’s defeat in the war against its nemesis, Azerbaijan.
Pashinyan, who has lost much of his appeal since last year’s military defeat, hopes to renew his term but is in a close race with former President Robert Kocharyan.
His critics accuse him of ceding swathes of territory in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan as part of a truce agreement that ended last year’s fighting and of failing to hold its promises of reform.
During an aggressive campaign marred by polarizing rhetoric, Pashinyan said he expected his civil contract party to get 60% of the vote, although some pollsters say those estimates are far-fetched.
The election in the South Caucasus country of about three million people will be watched by Russia, the Soviet-era ruler of Armenia, as well as by Turkey, which supported Azerbaijan in the six-week war against Nagorno-Karabakh last year.
Political observers say the outcome of the election is difficult to predict with voter apathy at its height and both Pashinyan and Kocharyan drawing massive crowds in the final days of the race.
A venomous campaign has seen candidates exchange insults and threats and the two favorites are expected to stage protests after the election.
Pashinyan, 46, wielded a hammer at rallies, while Kocharyan, 66, said he would be ready to duel the prime minister and said he planned to rig the vote.
‘Time for change’
Armenian President Armen Sarkissian, largely a ceremonial figure, denounced attempts to “incite hatred and enmity” and urged law enforcement to prevent any violations.
“These elections are taking place in a difficult situation,” he said on Saturday. “They are of crucial importance to our state and our people. “
Pashinyan says he had to accept the truce negotiated by Moscow with Azerbaijan in order to avoid further loss of life and territory.
More than 6,500 people have been killed in the war, according to the latest estimates from Armenia and Azerbaijan.