YEREVAN - Agence France-Presse
Armenian president Serzh Sarkisian casts his ballot at a polling station in Yerevan. AFP photo
Armenia's governing party looked set to win parliamentary polls today in the biggest test of the country's fragile democracy since disputed leadership elections in 2008 ended in fatal clashes.
An exit poll suggested that President Serzh Sarkisian's governing Republican party had won 44.4 percent of the vote with its outgoing parliamentary coalition partner, while the Prosperous Armenia party led by a millionaire former arm wrestling champion took 28.8 percent.
However pollster Gallup International Association warned that the figures may not be entirely accurate because some 40 percent of the 20,000 voters surveyed refused to answer and some bloggers questioned their credibility.
"These results are very preliminary... Who won is clear, but who lost is not so," Andrey Raichev of Gallup International Association told private Armenia TV, which commissioned the exit poll.
The authorities had promised an unprecedentedly clean contest for the 131-seat National Assembly in the hope of avoiding any turmoil after battles between riot police and opposition supporters four years ago left 10 people dead.
"I want everything to be calm, peaceful and in accordance with our laws today, tomorrow and the day afterwards. This is a guarantee of progress," Sarkisian told journalists after casting his ballot in Yerevan.
The Armenian National Congress opposition bloc led by former president Levon Ter-Petrosian has alleged that the governing party is planning to rig the vote and has threatened protests.
"If the elections are normal, we will agree with any result," Ter-Petrosian said after voting.
Local media reported allegations of polling-day violations including incidents of parties bribing voters -- a problem that has marred previous Armenian elections -- although it was not immediately clear how widespread such irregularities were.
Prosperous Armenia's musclebound millionaire leader Tsarukian, who keeps lions at his opulent villa and is seen by supporters as a benevolent hero, said he had voted for "change" and a "strong state."
"For Tsarukian, it is not important how many votes he receives -- Tsarukian wants it to be good for everyone," the grinning white-suited tycoon said at a polling station in his hometown Abovian.
Turnout was 51.5 percent at 5:00 p.m. (1100 GMT), three hours before polls closed, the Central Election Commission said.
Campaigning came to a chaotic finish on Friday when scores of gas-filled balloons exploded at a Republican party rally in Yerevan led by Sarkisian, unleashing a fireball into the air and injuring around 150 people.
Sarkisian had been criticized for continuing Friday's campaign event after the incident in which scores of promotional balloons burst into flames as people screamed in panic.
Around 2.5 million people were eligible to vote in the elections, which were contested by eight parties and one bloc.
Some 350 European observers and 31,000 local monitors scrutinised the conduct of the polls.