Armenians Vote in Presidential Election Overshadowed by Shooting

Armenians are voting today in an election and will probably reaffirm the dominance of President Serzh Sargsyan after a campaign that’s been dominated by one candidate’s attempted assassination and another’s hunger strike.

Sargsyan, 59, had 69 percent support, compared with 11 percent for his nearest challenger, Raffi Hovhannisyan, a former foreign minister, according to a Gallup poll published Feb. 9. Voting stations close at 8 p.m. in the capital, Yerevan, with exit polls due right after.

Armenia, which borders Iran and Turkey and fought a war with neighboring Azerbaijan over a disputed region two decades ago, is choosing a leader for the sixth time since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, with a Sargsyan win set to bolster last year’s parliamentary victory for his Republican Party. While the president failed to alleviate poverty that afflicts a third of the country’s three million people, the $10 billion economy is forecast to grow more than 4 percent in 2013.

“Experience shows that Armenians prefer leaving the country instead of voicing their protest,” said Tatul Hakobyan, a political analyst at Civilitas Foundation in Yerevan. “People have grown indifferent about elections after seeing over the past 20 years elections that were neither free nor fair.”

GDP will jump 6.2 percent this year after rising 7.2 percent in 2011, the government predicts. That’s more optimistic than the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the World Bank, which estimate growth of 5 percent and 4.3 percent, respectively. Armenia, whose exports include zinc, copper and semi-precious stones, relies on its far-flung diaspora to support the economy, with remittances accounting for about 20 percent of its economic output, according to Commerzbank AG.

Dram, Lari

Armenia’s dram has lost 4.4 percent against the dollar over the past year compared with a 0.2 percent drop for the lari in neighboring Georgia and an advance of 0.2 percent for the Azeri manat, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

Voters are choosing between seven candidates, with three including former Prime Minister Hrant Bagratyan, forecast to get no more than 5 percent support each according to Gallup’s Jan. 25-Feb. 2 survey of 1,017 adults. It had a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.

Paruyr Hayrikyan, a former dissident who was shot and wounded in a Jan. 31 incident, has 5 percent backing, while Andrias Ghukasyan, who hasn’t eaten in 29 days and calls the ballot “fake,” has 1 percent, the Gallup survey showed.

2008 Election

Sargsyan grew up in Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous region that broke free of Azerbaijan’s control after the Soviet collapse and is a frequent source of tension between the two nations. His 2008 election win triggered bloody scenes as 10 people died amid clashes between opposition protesters and police.

The Armenian leader, whose party won 68 of Parliament’s 131 seats at elections last May, has had to overcome a 14 percent plunge in gross domestic product in 2009 after Lehman Brothers Holding Inc.’s collapse triggered a global recession. The proportion of people living below the poverty line has grown to 35 percent from 23.5 percent in 2008, while unemployment was 5.9 percent at the end of 2012, official data show.

Two suspects have been arrested after Hayrkyan was wounded in a shooting near his home late on Jan. 31. After having bullet fragments removed from his shoulder, he declined to seek a delay in the presidential vote.

Ghukasyan, a lawyer and radio station head, has refused to call off his hunger strike unless he’s visited by Health Minister Derenik Dumanyan.

Another three hopefuls decided against standing at all. The absence of challengers among the opposition will probably stem the possibility of violence after the elections, according to Richard Giragosian, director of the Regional Studies Center in Yerevan.

“Conflict is lingering but will be deferred until a political transition after Sargsyan’s second term,” he said. “Post-election conflict or unrest is unlikely next week.”

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