[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Languages
Last Updated: Saturday, 12 May 2007, 18:57 GMT 19:57 UK
Polls close in Armenian election
Robert Kocharyan
President Robert Kocharyan said the vote had passed peacefully
Polls have closed in Armenia's parliamentary elections, seen as a key test of the country's democracy.

The governing Republican Party, led by Prime Minister Serzh Sarksyan, is expected to win.

This is Armenia's fourth election since it gained independence in 1991. Foreign monitors said the last poll, in 2003, did not meet democratic standards.

Ahead of the vote, Western countries warned of serious consequences if Armenia did not improve this record.

Fight against corruption

Casting his vote, Armenian President Robert Kocharyan said the polls had been calm and he was sure everything would be all right.

If there is evidence of fraud, the former Soviet nation could lose more than $200m (101m) of American development aid and the possibility of closer links with the European Union, the BBC's Matthew Collin in Yerevan says.

These are vital for the future of this small, impoverished and isolated country, our correspondent says.

Preliminary results are expected within 24 hours.

"The real test is on election day and during counting," a spokesman for the Organisation for Security and Co-operation of Europe (OSCE) monitors told Reuters news agency.

"That is a cornerstone," he said.

Some voters expressed concerns about widespread poverty and corruption, as well as hopes for a more prosperous future.

But others said they did not believe that change would come quickly.

"I think it does not matter, the current government or a future one, all of them are petty criminals and absolutely no one thinks about the nation," one disillusioned voter told BBC News.

'Buying support'

About 2.3m voters were registered to elect 131 members of the country's National Assembly.

The start of the campaign was marred by a series of violent attacks.

map

Questions were also raised about the conduct of some politicians, who had been offering gifts to potential voters.

Our correspondent says some opposition parties believed the vote would be rigged so Armenia's elite can retain its wealth and power.

Critics have accused the authorities of trying to silence dissent and have vowed to launch protests after the elections.

Officials say that changes in the country's electoral law will make these polls more democratic.

Armenia fought an unresolved war with neighbouring Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region after the break-up of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.

Yerevan also has fraught relations with Turkey.

Earlier this week, Armenia angered OSCE by refusing to grant visas to eight Turkish members of its 400-strong group of foreign observers.


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Voters go to the polls in Armenia's capital Yerevan



SEE ALSO
Observers condemn Armenian poll
26 May 03 |  Europe
Incumbent 'wins' Armenia vote
06 Mar 03 |  Europe
Country profile: Armenia
12 Feb 03 |  Country profiles

RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites



FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

PRODUCTS & SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific