Elections in Karabakh: Two generals among candidates contesting presidential post in Stepanakert
A presidential election campaign in Nagorno-Karabakh kicks off on June 19, while a month later the fifth presidential vote in the history of the [internationally] unrecognized Armenian republic will be held. Among the four candidates are incumbent president Bako Sahakyan, MP, former Deputy Defense Minister Vitaly Balasanyan, pro-rector of the Stepanakert Branch of the State Agrarian University Arkady Soghomonyan and Valery Khachatryan, presently unemployed.
Political observers expect the main competition will be between two generals - General of the National Security Sahakyan and combat general Balasanyan.
After retiring from his post of deputy defense minister, Balasanyan actively engaged in politics. He became an adviser to Sahakyan, but three years later had to resign. Officially, no reasons for his departure were reported, but in private conversations Balasanyan spoke about his advice being unwanted and much in Sahakyan’s policies being unacceptable to him.
Balasanyan has already accused Sahakyan of using administrative resources and in an open letter to Sahakyan he urged him not to forget that apart from being a candidate he is “still the incumbent president”.
“Since 2005, our authorities have accumulated a vast experience of fraud, illegal involvement of law enforcement and national security agencies in the electoral processes, an inflation of the number of voters on electoral rolls, different kinds of pressure on voters, etc. This has led to apathy in society, distrust of people in the electoral process in the country and a decline of the image of the states,” the letter said.
All the three parties that have representations in Karabakh’s parliament – the Democratic Party of Artsakh, the Free Homeland Party and ARF Dashnaktsutyun – pronounced in favor of the candidacy of the incumbent president. And, strangely enough, Dashnaktsutyun stopped short of supporting Balasanyan, a non-party MP twice elected to the National Assembly on its lists.
First, the ARF Artsakh Central Committee declared that they would maintain neutrality and allow its members to vote freely, but then, after a visit to Stepanakert by member of the ARF Bureau Hrant Markarian, a statement was issued that the party would support Sahakyan. Balasanyan has already described it as pressure on Artsakh members of the party.
However, among those who intend to back Balasanyan are 2007 presidential candidate, and currently head of the Public Council for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Masis Mayilyan and ex-mayor of Stepanakert Eduard Aghabekyan, which is an indication of the possible formation of a sort of opposition bloc in Karabakh.
During the latest elections Mayilyan received the second largest number of votes, but after the elections, he had to resign from his post as deputy minister of foreign affairs. Pressure was also reportedly put on his family and supporters. In its turn, the election of opposition candidate Aghabekyan as mayor of Stepanakert in 2004 is called the only democratic election in Karabakh. But after his election he didn’t have easy times, although in the 2007 presidential elections Aghabekyan supported Sahakyan.
None of the four candidates have published their pre-election programs, and it is not yet known what will be the difference between them. One thing is clear - Balasanyan will talk about the transformation of the economic system now concentrated in the hands of a few people, as well as a more active foreign policy. Sahakyan will insist on the continuation of the current economic policy, which officially ensures up to 8-9 percent economic growth annually. He will also have to answer the question why for a year now there is no [fully appointed] foreign minister - Georgiy Petrosyan still serves as acting foreign minister.
There will be 274 polling stations in Karabakh, another one will be in the NKR representation in Yerevan. Karabakh officially has 97,664 eligible voters.