Armenians began casting their ballots on Sunday in a parliamentary election, as acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan fights for another term in office against former President Robert Kocharyan.
The elections come after Armenia lost a six-week war against Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region last fall.
The disputed territory lies within Azerbaijan but had been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces — backed by the Armenian government — since 1994.
The results will be closely watched by other key players in the region, such as Russia and Turkey.
Who are the candidates?
The ballot includes 21 political parties and four electoral blocs, but two political forces are seen as the main contenders: the ruling Civic Contract party led by Pashinyan and the Armenia Alliance, led by Kocharyan.
Pashinyan, a 46-year-old reformist, swept to power in 2018, having pledged to get rid of corruption and forge closer ties between Armenia and the West.
Yet, he has lost popularity with many Armenians after signing a Moscow-brokered peace deal to end last year’s war with Azerbaijan over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Pashinyan said the truce was necessary to prevent further losses of territory and life but stepped down from the premiership to allow the election to take place.
Opponents say he failed to carry out promised reforms and that he surrendered territory to Azerbaijan under last year’s peace deal.
Kocharyan served as Armenia’s president from 1998 to 2008 and has promised to engage in negotiations on Nagorno-Karabakh’s borders if elected.
Kocharyan, who is closely tied to Russian President Vladimir Putin, faces a corruption investigation.
The 66-year-old has accused the government of rigging the vote against him.
Recent media reports cite polls showing Pashinyan’s party and Kocharyan’s bloc in a close race, and it’s unclear if either will be able to win 54% of parliament seats necessary to form a government.
A venomous election campaign saw candidates exchange insults and threats, and both front-runners are expected to stage protests after the vote.
President Armen Sarkissian has decried attempts “to incite hatred and enmity” and urged a peaceful election.
More than 2,000 polling stations will take part, with nearly 2.6 million people eligible to vote.
The first results are expected late Sunday evening.
View from DW’s Nick Connolly in Yerevan
DW’s correspondent Nick Connolly said Russia’s influence will continue to be felt long after the election.
“In terms of the big picture, in terms of where Armenia goes from now, it’s really just a choice of different degrees of closeness to Russia. There is really no other game in town for Armenia. Russia is the international guarantor of Armenia’s borders.”
“No Western power is willing to offer those sort of guarantees, so it’s a question of total alliance with Russia or some engagement with the West, with Europe but still dependent on Russia and its soldiers to protect this country from its much bigger neighbors.”