Armenia President's Party Leading as Constitutional Change Looms

(Bloomberg) -- Armenia President Serzh Sargsyan’s ruling Republican Party received 46 percent of the votes in parliamentary elections held on Sunday that will pave the way for constitutional changes that shift power away from the presidency, according to an exit poll.

Voter turnout was about 61 percent, said Tigran Mukuchyan, the head of Armenia’s Central Electoral Committee. The exit poll was conducted by The Gallup Organization with the Armenian Sociological Association.

Republicans are competing with four other parties and four political alliances in the elections, which are being held under a new system of proportional representation. Parties need at least 5 percent of the vote and alliances 7 percent to enter parliament.

“It is time to collect votes,” Sargsyan said after he voted, declining to offer a prediction.

The Tsarukyan alliance headed by Gagik Tsarukyan, an oligarch and former arm-wrestling champion, received 25 percent of votes, while the Yelk (Way Out) alliance of opposition parties received 10 percent and the Armenian Revolutionary Foundation party 5 percent. The remaining five parties and blocs didn’t reach the threshold for representation, according to the exit poll. The margin of error is plus or minus 1.5 percentage points.

Armenia’s General Prosecutor’s Office examined more than 1,300 reports of suspected voting violations, and the Investigative Committee said it received 73 reports about possible violations that may be criminal in nature.

The republic of 3 million people is switching from a mainly presidential system to one in which power will rest with the parliament once Sargsyan’s second and final term ends in March 2018. The changes approved in a December 2015 referendum give Sunday’s results particular significance.

There were 131 seats in the previous parliament. Under the new electoral system, there’ll be a minimum of 101 seats and a second round of voting if no party wins at least 50 percent or can create a majority coalition. In that case, the top two parties will compete in a run-off and additional seats will be allocated to ensure the winner has at least 54 percent of places to form a government.