Yerevan, Jun 21 (AP) Early results in Armenia's snap parliamentary elections show the party of the acting prime minister far ahead of rivals.

The country's elections commission said Sunday that with votes counted from about 8 per cent of Armenia's 2008 precincts, Nikol Pashinyan's Civil Contract party had nearly 62 per cent of the vote with former president Robert Kocharyan's party in a distant second place with 18 per cent. One other party hovered near the 5 per cent threshold to get seats in parliament.

The early election was called by Pashinyan in a bid to ease public anger over the peace deal he signed as prime minister in November, which set off months of protests demanding his resignation.

The Moscow-brokered agreement ended six weeks of fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces, but saw Azerbaijan reclaim control over large parts of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding areas that had been held by Armenian forces for more than a quarter-century. Thousands of Armenians took to the streets in the capital of Yerevan to protest the deal as a betrayal of national interests.

Despite the high emotions over the war defeat and the calls for Pashinyan to resign, election turnout was lukewarm — only 49 per cent of eligible voters cast ballots,

After calling the election, Pashinyan stepped down from the premiership as required by law to allow the election to take place but remains the country's leader as acting prime minister. The new parliament could restore him to the full post or choose a new prime minister.

Nagorno-Karabakh lies within Azerbaijan but had been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by the government in Yerevan since a separatist war ended in 1994, leaving the region and substantial surrounding territory in Armenian hands.

Hostilities flared in late September 2020, and the Azerbaijani military pushed deep into Nagorno-Karabakh and nearby areas in six weeks of fighting involving heavy artillery and drones that killed more than 6,000 people.

Pashinyan, who came to power after leading large street protests in 2018 that ousted his predecessor, has defended the deal as a painful but necessary move that prevented Azerbaijan from overrunning the entire Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Sunday's ballot involved 21 political parties and four electoral blocs. A party needs to win 54% of the seats in parliament in order to form a government.

After casting his ballot on Sunday, Kocharyan urged authorities to investigate the appearance of leaflets denouncing him, an apparent violation of the law banning campaigning on election day. (AP)

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