Early returns from Armenia's snap parliamentary elections Sunday show the country's new prime minister's bloc with a commanding lead — an outcome that would help further consolidate his power.
The charismatic 43-year-old Nikol Pashinian took office in May after spearheading massive protests that forced his predecessor to step down. Pashinian pushed for an early vote to win control of a parliament that was dominated by his political foes.
An ex-journalist turned politician, Pashinian has won broad popularity, tapping into public anger over widespread poverty, high unemployment and rampant corruption in the landlocked former Soviet nation of 3 million that borders Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Iran.
With 185 out of the nation's 2,010 precincts counted, Pashinian's My Step was garnering 66% of the vote, while the Republican Party that controlled the old parliament was a distant fourth with just under 4%, struggling to overcome a 5% barrier to make it into parliament. The pro-business Prosperous Armenia party was in second with about 11%, and the nationalist Dashnaktsutyun party was winning about 8%.
By the time the polls closed at 8 p.m., 49% of the nation's eligible voters had cast ballots. Preliminary results are expected Monday.
Pashinian exuded confidence after casting his ballot in Yerevan, saying that he was sure that his bloc will win a majority in parliament.
During the monthlong campaign, Pashinian has blasted members of the old elite as corrupt and pledged to revive the economy, create new jobs and encourage more Armenians to return home.
"An economic revolution is our top priority," Pashinian told reporters Sunday.
Armenia has suffered from an economic blockade stemming from the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, a region of Azerbaijan that has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since the end of a six-year separatist war in 1994. Attempts to negotiate a peace settlement have stalled and fighting has occasionally flared up between ethnic Armenian forces and Azerbaijan's soldiers.
Both Azerbaijan and Turkey have closed their borders with Armenia over the conflict, cutting trade and leaving Armenia in semi-isolation. The country has direct land access only to Georgia and Iran.