Pro-presidential parties set to win Armenia vote

YEREVAN Sun May 13, 2007 5:07am EDT

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YEREVAN (Reuters) - Pro-presidential parties have won a large majority in Armenia's parliamentary elections, the former Soviet state's election commission said on Sunday ahead of official results being released.

The Republican party, which leads the election seen as a dress rehearsal for next year's presidential vote, is led by Prime Minister Serzh Sarksyan -- a trusted lieutenant and favoured successor to President Robert Kocharyan when he steps down after the end of his second term.

"The Republican party won far more than other parties in the poll and is in first place," election commission spokeswoman, Tsovinar Nazaryan, said.

Armenia is Russia's main ally in the Caucasus, nestling on the southern edge of the region which has emerged as a major transit route for oil from Central Asia to Europe, and also borders Turkey and Iran.

International observers have urged it to improve the fairness of its parliamentary elections, saying the 2003 vote fell short of democratic standards.

But Nazaryan declared Saturday's vote as free and open.

"There were just a few complaints about voting violations," she said. "These were checked and most were found to be baseless."

Nazaryan said the Republican party had won around 40 percent of the vote, and two other pro-presidential parties another 35 percent combined.

Republican party members were pleased with the projected result.

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

A fringe opposition group which wants to start proceedings to impeach the president is not expected to win enough votes to clear the 5 percent barrier and enter 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 recognise the result of the election and our struggle will shift to another stage," he said.

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

Officials are due to announce the final result at 2 p.m. (0900 GMT) and the monitoring group from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is due to hold a news conference on Sunday at 0930 GMT.

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 parliament that killed the speaker and the prime minister.

(Additional reporting by Hasmik Mkrtchyan)

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