Armenian president set to win election marred by shooting

Sun Feb 17, 2013 5:58am EST
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By Hasmik Mkrtchyan and Margarita Antidze

YEREVAN (Reuters) - Armenian President Serzh Sarksyan is likely to win a new five-year term on Monday after an election campaign marred by an assassination attempt on one of his rivals and a hunger strike by another.

Opinion polls suggest Sarksyan's victory is all but certain. He is on target to win more than 60 percent of the votes in the small, landlocked country in the South Caucasus, with the next of the other six candidates barely in double figures.

Sarksyan's supporters say an election free of the violence and fraud that tainted the last presidential election in 2008, when 10 people were killed in clashes, would show the former Soviet republic is on the road to political stability and help sustain its economic recovery after years of war and upheaval.

"People expect from the president that he will be able to provide security and sustainability for our country," Prime Minister Tigran Sarksyan told Reuters in an interview in Yerevan, the capital of the country of 3.2 million people.

"Based on that, all social-economic problems, and first of all unemployment, can be solved.

But there are still questions about stability in a country that is locked in a dispute with neighboring Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, the tiny region over which a war was fought in the 1990s between Armenians and Azeris.

Tensions over the mountainous enclave still pose a threat to peace in a region where pipelines take Caspian oil and natural gas to Europe.

These concerns were underlined in an attempt to kill Paruyr Hayrikyan, 63, an outsider in the election. He was shot in the shoulder on January 31 in an incident which for a while threatened to force the vote to be delayed for two weeks.   Continued...

A worker removes an election poster of Armenia's current President Serzh Sarksyan in Yerevan, February 16, 2013. Armenia's presidential elections will be held on February 18. The poster is being taken down for the "day of silence" on February 17 where political campaigning is not allowed. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili