Presidential Election Campaign underway in the Nagorno-Karabakh 4

A monument that has come to symbolisa Armenian heritage in Nagorno-Karabakh

Campaigning began on June 20th in the run-up to presidential elections in the self-declared Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) scheduled for July 19th, 2012.

The Head of the Central Election Commission, R. Petrosyan, convened a meeting on June 15th in which he announced the candidates and procedures for the upcoming presidential elections.

In accordance with the electoral code of the territory, 274 electoral districts have been established as well as one polling station in Yerevan, Armenia, to enable Karabakh residents, living there temporarily, to vote. According to the Armenian press, there are in total 97, 664 eligible voters.

Petrosyan announced that training courses for the heads of the Territorial Election Commissions (TECs) were also organised. These courses provided training for the managers on how to recruit the necessary and appropriate staff for the TECs. All of the elections material, including posters, fliers and campaign handouts have been ordered to ensure that both those running and participating in the elections are well informed.

On 20 June, the CEC met again to discuss and allot the TV and radio spots, both free and paid, candidates would receive during the campaign period.

Local and international observers are currently being registered with the CEC.

The campaign will end at midnight on 17 July and no campaigning will be allowed on 18 July. Polls will open on the morning of 19 July.

Four candidates are running in the presidential elections: incumbent president Bako Sahakyan; current MP and former Deputy Defence Minister General Vitaly Balasanyan; Arkady Soghomonyan, the rector of the public university in Stepanakerk and Valery Khachatryan.

In an open letter to the current President, Balasanyan has accused Sahakyan of misusing public funds and resources for the election campaign.

“Since 2005,” he writes, “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 voters’ lists, 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 state.”

The upcoming elections will be the fifth presidential elections held in the NKR. Neither Azerbaijan nor the international community recognizes the independence of the region.

Mubariz Gurbanili, an Azerbaijani Member of Parliament  has criticized the elections in the NKR and stated that “no one will recognize the elections” since they are taking place in occupied territories. Many foreign governments have also criticized the elections, claiming that the results are illegitimate so long as the conflict remains unresolved, and since the Azerbaijani population of Karabakh that was displaced by the conflict two decades ago will not be able to participate.

Regardless of the difficulties, the NKR authorities are determined to make the elections a success. Speaking in the United Kingdom last week, NKR Parliamentary Chairperson, Ashot Ghoulian, declared that the upcoming NKR elections will be the “best held in the South Caucasus.”

The campaign kicks off on the heels of recent talks in Paris under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group between the co-chairs of the Minsk Group, Russia, France and the United States as well as the Foreign Ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan on June 18 in the continued effort for a peaceful settlement of the dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh.

In a joint statement released by the OSCE, the co-chairs announced that the meeting was positive and constructive. The Minsk Group reiterated their concerns over violent conflict in the region and pressed the Foreign Ministers of both Armenia and Azerbaijan to work together to develop humanitarian contacts and to create a joint mechanism under which to investigate ceasefire violations and to preserve important historic and cultural sites.

On June 19, within the framework of the G-20 meeting in Los Cabos, Mexico, Presidents Hollande, Obama, and Putin issued a joint statement promising to work together to resolve the conflict.

The leaders of the Minsk Group co-Chair countries called upon Armenian and Azerbaijani authorities “to fulfil the commitment in their January 23, 2012 joint statement at Sochi to ‘accelerate’ reaching agreement on the Basic Principles for a Settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict.”

“As evidence of their political will,” they continued, “they should refrain from maximalist positions in the negotiations, respect the 1994 ceasefire agreement, and abstain from hostile rhetoric that increases tension.”

Report prepared by Karina Gould for CEW with additional reporting from the OSCE Press Service, Radio Free Europe, the Armenian and Nagorno-Karabakh press.