In Karabakh voters head to the polls this week to determine 5th president of the territory

With the campaign period wrapped up (as of midnight on 17 July), residents of the self declared Nagorno-Karabakh Republic will have one day of reflection before going to the polls from 8:00am to 8:00pm on 19 July to determine the fifth president of the contested territory. Results are set to be announced on 22 July.

They will have to choose between three candidates: incumbent President Bako Sahakyan; former Deputy Defence Minister Vitali Balasanyan; and Deputy Director of Academic Affairs of the Stepanakert campus of the State Agrarian University of Armenia, Arkadi Soghomonyan.

Valeri Khachatryan, the fourth candidate, submitted a request to formally withdraw from the race to the Central Election Committee on Monday 9 July.

Following a meeting of the NKR Central Election Committee on 10 July, the electoral ballots have been printed and were distributed to Local Electoral Committees from 14 -16 July. The total number of registered voters will be announced on July 18, one day ahead of the actual vote.

The elections in the NKR remain controversial. At the OSCE meeting on Election Observation held in Vienna last week, the Armenian and Azerbaijani delegates came to a head over the upcoming elections.

The Azerbaijani representative argued that the Presidential elections in Nagorno Karabakh reflect the Armenian government’s objective to legitimise its occupation of the territory. She reminded those present at the meeting that hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijani citizens remain displaced as a result of this conflict and urged OSCE member states to discourage participation by their citizens in the observation of the elections.

Azerbaijan views the NKR as part of its territory and does not recognise its independence and considers the current electoral process illegitimate.

The Armenian delegate denied the accusations made by the Azerbaijani representative. He assured the meeting’s participants that the elections in Nagorno-Karabakh represented the free will of the people of the region. He pressed the OSCE, its Member States, and the international community to support the democratic process in the NKR and to embrace the results. He noted that international observers will indeed be present during the polls.

According to Alexander Margarov, an Armenian political scientist, the upcoming elections are important for the territory, regardless of the outcome. Despite concerns over competitiveness, Margarov believes that participation will help Nagorno-Karabakh further consolidate its society. Others consider the elections as a way to exert moral and political pressure on Azerbaijan and the international community towards recognition of the independence of the territory.

Neither the OSCE nor the Council of Europe is observing the elections in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Report compiled by Karina Gould for CEW