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YEREVAN, Armenia – Armenians cast ballots Sunday in an early parliamentary election that was expected to further consolidate the power of the nation's new prime minister.
The charismatic 43-year-old Nikol Pashinian took office in May after spearheading massive protests against his predecessor's power grab which forced that politician to step down. Pashinian has pushed for early vote to win control of a parliament that was dominated by his political foes.
Pashinian, an ex-journalist turned politician, 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.
Opinion polls indicate that Pashinian's My Step alliance is set to sweep the vote, while the Republican Party that controlled the old parliament is trailing.
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.
About one-third of Armenia's population has moved to live and work abroad and remittances from those who have left account for around 14 percent of the country's annual GDP.