By Margarita Antidze and Hasmik Mkrtchyan
YEREVAN (Reuters) - Armenian President Serzh Sarksyan's Republican Party won a parliamentary majority, election results showed on Monday, strengthening his position ahead of a presidential election next year.
The Republican Party won 44 percent of the vote decided under a party list system in Sunday's election and won at least 28 seats contested by individual candidates, election officials said, giving it an overall majority in the 131-seat parliament.
The vote was seen as a test of democracy in Russia's main ally in the South Caucasus region where a previous nationwide poll was marred by violence and allegations of vote rigging.
A leading lawmaker from Sarksyan's party said the vote was a triumph for democracy.
"This election proved there is no alternative to democratic values and the Republican Party ... is a guarantor of the preservation of these values," said Eduard Sharmazanov, a vice speaker in the previous of parliament.
Voting ended without any of the violence that erupted after Sarkasyan's election to the presidency in 2008 - a relief to Armenians hoping for a period of stability to support the battered economy in the landlocked nation of 3.3 million.
International monitors gave a mixed assessment, however, praising Armenia for holding a peaceful election but criticizing violations of campaign law and interference by parties.
The results in the former Soviet republic, where the Republican Party was just short of a majority in the previous parliament, give Sarksyan a strong platform to seek a second presidential term next year.
Armenia sits in a region that is emerging as an important route for oil and gas exports from the Caspian Sea to world markets, although it has no pipelines of its own.
The Prosperous Armenia party, led by wealthy businessman Gagik Tsarukyan, finished second with about 30 percent of the vote decided by party lists.
Prosperous Armenia was the Republican Party's coalition partner in the previous parliament but Sarksyan's party will not now need its backing to pass most laws, which require a majority.
Sarksyan can also rely on support from a government-allied party that was one of three smaller parties that cleared the 5 percent threshold needed to win seats.
The opposition Armenian National Congress, led by former President Levon Ter-Petrosyan, crossed the 7 percent threshold for party blocs to take up seats. The bloc is to hold a rally on Tuesday, something it said it had planned weeks before the election.
"I don't see any likelihood of mass demonstrations, although the results were disappointing for many, including Prosperous Armenia," said Richard Giragosian, director of the Regional Studies Centre in Yerevan.
"There are signs that Sarksyan will consolidate his hold on the Republican Party in preparation for his presidential bid in 2013," Giragosian said.
HOPES OF STABILITY
The two leading parties, both centre-right, put the economy and social problems at the heart of their election campaigns, promising more reform.
But there were no major differences in their economic programs, which promised to bolster domestic industry, make Armenia more competitive and continue cooperation with Russia and international financial organizations.
Voting irregularities marred Armenia's 2007 parliamentary election and clashes killed 10 people after the presidential vote in 2008.
"Armenia deserves recognition for its electoral reforms and its open and peaceful campaign environment," international observers from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe said in a statement.
But it added that several unnamed "stakeholders" had too often failed to comply with the law, and the election commissions had "too often failed to enforce it".
Police received 129 complaints of ballot stuffing, attempts to bribe voters and other irregularities. It said some of the claims proved to be false.
Armenia's economy was devastated by a war with neighboring Azerbaijan in the 1990s and then again by the 2008-2009 global financial crisis.
Although a ceasefire was reached in 1994, the conflict with Azerbaijan over the tiny Nagorno-Karabakh region remains unresolved and a threat to stability.
Relations with another neighbor, Turkey, are also fraught because Ankara does not recognize the killing of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey during World War One as genocide.
(Editing by Timothy Heritage and Andrew Osborn)