Armenian president Serzh Sargsyan won a new five-year term on Monday, an exit poll and initial results showed, in an election marred by allegations of fraud and the lack of a serious opposition challenge.
Police said they had received at least 70 reports of voting violations after a campaign in which one of the outside candidates was shot and wounded. The opposition Heritage party said many ballots cast for opposition parties had been thrown out, but did not say whether it would challenge the result.
The president, 58, has vowed to sustain economic recovery in his landlocked South Caucasus country and said before the vote he would ensure stability after years of war and upheaval, although he has outlined no plans for big policy changes.
The continued peace of a region where pipelines take Caspian oil and natural gas to Europe is a concern for foreign investors and neighbours, especially as relations are fraught with fellow former Soviet republic Azerbaijan.
“I voted for the future of Armenia, for the security of Armenia, for the security of our citizens,” Sargsyan said as he cast his vote at a polling station in the capital, Yerevan.
The exit poll by Baltic Surveys/The Gallup Organization put Sargsyan on 58% of votes cast. His nearest rival, US-born Raffi Hovannisian, trailed on 32%.
With 82 polling stations out of a total of 1,988 counted, Sarksyan was leading with 68% of the vote, according to official Central Electoral Committee data. Final results are expected late on Tuesday.
The result, if confirmed, will strengthen Sargsyan’s hold on Armenia, which borders Iran, Georgia, Turkey and Azerbaijan, following his Republican party’s victory in a parliamentary election last year.
The immediate reaction on the streets of Yerevan was muted as voters awaited the official results. Opinion polls had long predicted Sargsyan would win after his biggest potential challengers opted not to run.
“I voted for Serzh Sargsyan to give him a chance and I will demand that he fulfils everything correctly as he promised,” said Mariana, a housewife who declined to give her last name.
“This is a victory of our society, in as much as the process of the election and the voting proved that democratic processes are irreversible in Armenia,” said parliamentary vice-speaker Eduard Sharmazanov, a member of Sargsyan’s party.
Sargsyan’s promises of economic recovery resonate with voters in the country of 3.2 million, where more than 30% live below the poverty line. He has given no indication he wants to change ties with neighbours, most notably Azerbaijan, which went to war over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region in the 1990s and uses its diplomatic and economic muscle to isolate Yerevan.
Nagorno-Karabakh is an ethnic Armenian-majority enclave inside Azerbaijan, which Armenia-backed rebels wrested from Azeri troops. Firefights along the border still kill troops on both sides.
Election observers before the vote expressed concern over the democratic credentials of the election as none of Sargsyan’s serious opposition rivals chose to stand. The last presidential election, in 2008, was marred by clashes in which 10 people were killed, but there were no reports of violence on Monday.
Domestic security concerns were underlined by an attack on one of the candidates, Paruyr Hayrikyan, 63, an outsider in the election who was shot in the shoulder on 31 January.Another dark horse in the race, Andrias Ghukasyan, went on hunger strike to press for Sargsyan’s candidacy to be annulled.