Armenians vote in presidential election marred by shooting

Mon Feb 18, 2013 12:59am EST
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By Hasmik Mkrtchyan

YEREVAN (Reuters) - Armenians voted in a presidential election on Monday that is likely to hand incumbent Serzh Sarksyan a new five-year term, but the lack of any serious opposition and an assassination attempt on one of his rivals cast a shadow over the election.

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 hope an election free of the violence and fraud that marred the last presidential poll in 2008, when 10 people were killed in clashes, would show the world the former Soviet republic is on the path to economic recovery after years of war and upheaval.

Political stability was a concern among a steady trickle of voters who headed to a polling station at a children's daycare center in the capital, Yerevan.

"Sarksyan promotes the improvement of educated society, which is a guarantee of Armenia's future," said Artak Avetsyan, 31, a teacher who came to cast his ballot for the incumbent.

But with none of Sarksyan serious rivals in the opposition choosing to stand in the race, election observers expressed concerns over the democratic credentials of the vote.

Officials from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe said they found apathy towards the election and a lack of confidence about the electoral process among the public when they visited the country in January.

There are also questions about security in a country that is locked in a dispute with neighbouring Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnic Armenian-majority enclave inside Azerbaijan over which Armenians and Azeris fought a war in the 1990s. Sarksyan, 59, like many of his generation, is a veteran of that war.   Continued...

A woman walks by an election poster of the presidential candidate Raffi Hovannisin in Yerevan, February 17, 2013. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili