By Hasmik Mkrtchyan
YEREVAN (Reuters) – Armenians began voting in an early parliamentary election as acting prime minister Nikol Pashinyan sought a stronger mandate, having been elected by lawmakers to the post in May following a peaceful revolution earlier this year.
Pashinyan came to power in the wake of weeks of mass protests against corruption and cronyism in the ex-Soviet republic. The former newspaper editor, who was jailed for fomenting unrest in 2008, represents a dramatic break from the cadre of rulers who have run Armenia since the late 1990s.
He stepped down in October so parliament could be dissolved ready for the early election.
Poll stations opened at 8 am (0400 GMT) and voting was due to end at 8 pm (1600 GMT).
Former high-ranking officials were sacked and some were arrested following the power change. And a court of appeal ordered the detention of former President Robert Kocharyan again on Friday on charges of attempting to overthrow the constitutional order.
He was first arrested in July but freed the following month and the case was sent to the appeals court. Kocharyan was Armenia’s second president, serving in the post from 1998 to 2008, when mass protests erupted over a disputed election.
The former ruling Republican Party, however, still dominates the current parliament that was elected in 2017.
Pashinyan has said he expects Sunday’s vote to lead to a legislature that better reflects the nation’s new political landscape.
Nine parties and two blocs are taking part in the election and opinion polls suggest the My Step Alliance, which includes Pashinyan’s Civil Contract Party, will easily win a parliamentary majority.
After taking office, Pashinyan promised there would be no major shifts in Armenian foreign policy and has offered assurances he will not break with Moscow.
Armenia hosts a Russian military base and is a member of Russia-led military and economic alliances.
Pashinyan also suggested he would stick with existing policies on the long-running issue of Nagorno-Karabakh.
A mountainous part of Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh, is run by ethnic Armenians who declared independence from Baku during a conflict that broke out as the Soviet Union crumbled in 1991.
Though a ceasefire was agreed in 1994, Azerbaijan and Armenia still regularly accuse each other of conducting attacks around Nagorno-Karabakh and along the Azeri-Armenian border.
(Writing by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Helen Popper & Simon Cameron-Moore)