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Parliamentary vote in Armenia tests public support for President Sarkisian
YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) ' Armenians voted for a new parliament on Sunday in an election that the nation's president hoped would give him a majority among the lawmakers.
President Serge Sarkisian's Republican Party was expected to win the election, but it was aiming for more than half of the seats to avoid having to form a coalition. The party held 62 of the 131 seats in the outgoing parliament, just shy of a majority.
The voting also was seen as a test of public support for Sarkisian, who comes up for re-election next year.
Armenia is the smallest of the former Soviet republics, with about 3.3 million people, but more than double that number of Armenians live abroad. The largest diasporas are in Russia and the United States.
The Republican Party's main coalition partner, Prosperous Armenia led by businessman Gagik Tsarukian, grew increasingly critical of the president's party during the campaign in an effort to win enough votes to force Sarkisian to share power, not only in parliament but also in the Cabinet.
The opposition Armenian National Congress, led by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, also was expected to take seats in parliament.
After casting his ballot, Ter-Petrosian said he expected the election would be conducted fairly. "If the elections are OK, we will accept any results," he said.
Ter-Petrosian's supporters rallied in Yerevan following the February 2008 presidential election, claiming the vote won by Sarkisian was flawed. The protests turned violent in early March, when clashes with police left 10 people dead and more than 250 injured.
International observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said the Armenian government has taken steps in recent years to foster free and fair elections, including changes to electoral laws and the introduction of a new online election monitoring program.
Just under 2.5 million people were eligible to vote in the parliamentary election, which was contested by nine parties or blocs.