The Elections held in the self-declared Nagorno- Karabakh Republic that took place on 19 July stirred considerable controversy outside, but in the territory itself they were welcomed by both winners and losers as an example of the determination of the voters to establish democratic rule.
There were 98,909 voters eligible to vote, according to the territory’s Central Elections Commission. Of these 72,833 actually voted, resulting in a turnout of 73.4%. Incumbent President Bako Sahakyan was re-elected having received 47,085 votes (66.7%), whilst the main opposition candidate Vitaly Balasanyan received 22966 votes (32.2%). The third candidate Arkady Soghomonyan received 594 votes which is 0.8 percent of total votes.
Nagorno-Karabakh is recognised by the international community as part of Azerbaijan and its self declared independence is not recognised by any other state. The government of Azerbaijan condemned the elections, as did a number of international organisations.
In a terse statement issued in Brussels on the eve of the poll, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice- President of the Commission Catherine Ashton said, “On 19 July, ‘presidential elections’ will take place in Nagorno-Karabakh. I would like to reiterate that the European Union does not recognise the constitutional and legal framework in which they will be held. These ‘elections’ should not prejudice the determination of the future status of Nagorno-Karabakh in the negotiated general framework of the peaceful settlement of the conflict.
I recall the EU’s firm support to the OSCE Minsk Group, and in particular to the sustained efforts of its Co-chairs, aimed at a peaceful resolution of the conflict. I call on the parties to step up their efforts to find a negotiated solution to the conflict on the basis of the Madrid principles, which would allow progress beyond the status quo. I reiterate the EU’s readiness to provide further support to efforts in this direction.”
In a somewhat similar vein, the representatives of the OSCE Minsk Group co-Chair countries Ambassadors Robert Bradtke of the United States, Igor Popov of the Russian Federation, and Jacques Faure of France also issued a statement in which they “noted reports about the conduct of ‘elections’ that took place in Nagorno- Karabakh on July 19, 2012.” The statement added that
“The Co-Chairs acknowledge the need for the de facto authorities in NK to try to organize democratically the public life of their population with such a procedure. However, the Co-Chairs note that none of their three countries, nor any other country, recognizes Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent and sovereign state. The Co-Chairs stress that the procedures of July 19 in no way prejudge the final legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh or the outcome of the on-going negotiations to bring a lasting and peaceful settlement to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.”
Controversy also arose about the participation of international monitors in the elections. Although no country or international organisation monitored the elections, a number of international observers were present including some parliamentarians. Azerbaijan condemned their participation and said that it would take appropriate action.
The Ambassador of Azerbaijan to Canada, Farid Shafiyev, has told the Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail that the Azerbaijani government will declare the veteran Canadian Liberal politician Jim Karygiannis, the MP for Scarborough-Agincourt in Toronto, as a persona non grata for travelling to Nagorno-Karabakh to monitor the elections. Karygiannis who is the Party’s spokesperson on multiethnic issues travelled to Nagorno-Karabakh at the invitation of the Armenian National Committee, who also paid for his trip, according to the newspaper.
The Globe and Mail quoted Canadian Liberal leader Bob Rae, as saying that he was standing by his MP. Rae told the newspaper “Canadian Members of Parliament have to be able to express their own points of view, and to conduct their own investigations of the human-rights situations in countries around the world.” “Mr. Karygiannis is an MP of deep experience,” he said, “and is well known for his independence and candour. He enjoys my full confidence as leader.”
One group that monitored the elections was the European Friends of Armenia, who had an eight member election observation team made up of Germans, Cypriots and Armenians. In a statement the group said
“We strongly commend the local authorities for allowing us to move absolutely freely around Nagorno-Karabakh (including the scarcely populated buffer zone around) and to question anyone directly or indirectly connected to the elections. The efforts made to allow us and other observer teams to gain full insights and transparency were considerable and we call upon the international community to appreciate these efforts.” The group added that “The solidarity of democrats demands that we prefer and promote the basic human right of democratic self-governance and it is in this context that our group carried out our mission here. We call in particular upon the OSCE ODIHR to provide technical assistance and election observation for future local-election, as part of a humanitarian development aid, even if this is done while underlining the non-recognition of the local state entity. This will provide for a real boost in local democratic culture and help prepare the local population for the time after the resolution of the so-called frozen conflict, as envisaged by the OSCE Minsk Group.”
Unlike most of the other elections held in recent years in the South Caucasus the election result did not cause controversy in Karabakh itself. Vitali Balasanyan, who although a loser in the election, secured a respectable third of the vote and conducted what many thought was a serious and inspiring election campaign, issued a statement after the results were announced, that whilst stopping short of endorsing the electoral process was positive in its outlook.
He said: “We proved to the world and to ourselves that the people of Artsakh are ready to become the masters of their future. And the elections showed that at least onethird of our population does not agree with the policy being conducted and it demands changes. The President-in-office and his team were unable to secure fair elections. The elections were free, but not fair. [And] I consider the votes [I] received under these conditions to be a good result, which is a serious foundation for creating a new political institution. [And] One of the primary goals of this institution will be the protection of our citizens’ rights. I thank all those who voted for me. I salute all those who listened to their conscience and voted for the other candidates. I thank all the media and observers that impartially carried out their duties during the entire course of the elections. I thank all those persons and organizations of Artsakh, the Republic of Armenia, and the [Armenian] Diaspora, which expressed their support for me and for my election program,” the statement concludes.
In a comment on the day after the elections the political editor of the website commonspace.eu which reports in detail about the situation around the Karabakh region said that
“The elections have changed very little either domestically in Karabakh, or in the context of the ongoing negotiations for the settlement of the conflict. Politics in Karabakh has been largely stagnated over the last five years and thanks to the efforts of opposition candidate Vitaly Balsanyan the election campaign introduced a little excitement in it for the first time in many years. The result was however as expected. It is unlikely that Karabakh will see any major changes in the current context. With the elections out of the way it is hoped that all sides can now focus again on the peace negotiations. The Foreign Ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan are scheduled to meet in New York in September on the margins of the UN General Assembly, and there is also a possibility they may meet earlier in Europe. These meetings are seen as important to keep the lines of communication between the sides open. They will not however produce the long awaited breakthrough, which requires a more direct engagement by the presidents of the two countries.”