Paschinjan supporter in Yerevan, April 25, 2018image rights
AFP

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Mass protests in April kicked veteran leader Serzh Sargsyan out of office

The man behind the extraordinary "Velvet Revolution" that shook Armenia in April is facing a crucial test with early parliamentary elections on Sunday.

Former journalist and politician Nikol Pashinyan, 43, developed a peaceful transfer of power and aroused hope for economic transformation.

Almost a third of the 3 million Armenians are officially classified as poor. The unemployment rate is about 16% and the average monthly salary is 166,540 drams (£ 270, $ 343).

An important promise made by Mr. Pashinjan to tens of thousands of Armenians who participated in street protests was the country's first democratic parliamentary elections.

He remains very popular and few doubt that his My Step Alliance will be among the eleven parties and political blocs at the top.

"Grab her by the neck"

However, Mr Pashinyan's critics say early voting penalizes many parties.

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AFP

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A huge election poster for Nikol Pashinyan in Yerevan

"All political parties had time to prepare well for the elections," says Armen Ashotyan, vice-president of the former Republican ruling party.

He claims that his party members have been harassed and intimidated and have accused Mr. Pashinyan of hate speech.

At a rally, Mr. Pashinyan said he would "grab her the throat" – referring to Republican loyalists – and "throw her out of office."

"There is still a so-called post-revolutionary euphoria in Armenia, which will be reflected in the vote, which means that multi-party democracy in Armenia is in danger," says Ashotyan.

What makes this guide so popular?

Mr. Pashinyan regularly uses Facebook live broadcasts to act as an accessible politician.

Yerevan shop owner Andranik Grigorian was so impressed that he renamed his shop to Mr. Pashinyan.

"I'm not afraid he'll be too powerful," he insists. "I am sure he will remain as honest as he is today."

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The shopkeeper Andranik Grigorian named his shop after the new leader

Shortly after the change of power in May, Armenia's husband took another popular step and launched an anti-corruption campaign.

In June, when state security officials raided the mansion of a retired army general, they found an arsenal of weapons, a fleet of vintage cars, and a stock of canned goods. This food was originally donated to Armenian soldiers stationed in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region in neighboring Azerbaijan.

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The general allegedly had the food for animal feed in his private zoo, which included bears and tigers.

Mr. Pashinyan announced last month that more than $ 20 million in abuse since May has been reinvested in the state budget.

Will Russia step in?

When Pashinyan came to power, he assured Russia that the street protests were an internal problem and would not jeopardize Armenia's foreign policy. After all, the country is a strategic ally for Moscow in the Caucasus.

However, Russia is vulnerable to so-called revolutions throughout the former Soviet Union. It maintains a military base in Armenia and follows developments closely.

Mr. Pashinyan had initially promised that there would be no political vendetta, but then went back to former political leaders and their relatives.

Charges were filed against former President Robert Kocharyan for his role in post-election violence in 2008, which killed 10 people.

After Mr. Kocharyan was released on bail, he received a birthday call from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the two leaders are only good friends.

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