OPINION: Atom Mkhitaryan writes about the elections in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Atom Mkhitaryan

The Armenian Centre for Electoral Systems (AC ES) monitored the elections in Nagorno-Karabakh held on 19 July. AC ES Director, Atom Mkhitaryan, shares his impressions of the process.

“The free, fair and competitive presidential elections held in Nagorno-Karabakh on July 19 testify to the loyalty of Artsakh authorities and people to democracy and rule of law” – said the Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian by answering a question of Armenpress news agency. While the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh (NKR) is internationally not recognised, a large number of international and local observers were present during E-day. The Armenian Centre for Electoral Systems (AC ES) with the support of the FYCA – Federation of Youth Clubs (Armenia) and its member clubs in NKR conducted an Election Observation Mission.

AC ES’s observation mission was a short-term one, and included the E-Day and the electoral counting procedures. Our mission observed about 15% of the 243 polling stations, stretching from Mardakert in the north to Hadrout in the south. We strongly commend the local authorities for allowing our observers to move absolutely freely around Nagorno-Karabakh and to question anyone connected to the elections. The efforts made to allow us and other observer teams to gain full insights and transparency were considerable. Proxies of two main candidates were present in all polling stations that were observed by AC ES, and when questioned they reported no violations of the electoral code, at the time of asking.

As required by the electoral code educational posters were visible in all polling stations, both in Stepanakert and outside. Official CVs of the three running candidates, with photographs, were posted in all polling stations and no political advertising was visible in the proximity of the polling stations. Again, according the electoral code voter lists were posted in all polling stations. Voting procedures in all polling stations made a solid and organised impression. No reports of violence or tensions were received throughout the observation and the general atmosphere was friendly and relaxed. Voters questioned at the polling stations reported no violations or intimidations. Polling station staff and proxies fully cooperated with all observers and provided full transparency.

The Central Election Commission fully cooperated with all observers and provided full transparency. Voter turnout was visibly above average. Meantime, across NKR comparatively few billboard posters of any candidate were noticeable. The main form of visible campaign advertising consisted of A4 sized posters in shops and public places. Ballot boxes were marked and sealed with inconsistent means. In one polling station, two proxies of one candidate were present simultaneously. In a number of polling stations persons not related to the voting administration were counted inside the polling stations. However, none of the proxies or voters connected this to any form of code violation.

Access to polling stations for people with disability was often not facilitated and voting by correspondence was not possible.

As a conclusion AC ES strongly welcomes the wish of NKR authorities to organise local selfgovernment based on democratic principles. According to preliminary results of maximum votes received NKR acting President Bako Sahakyan. The results of the elections had been summed up and according to preliminary data 47085 voters gave their votes to Bako Sahakyan which is the 66.7 percent of total votes. NKR presidential candidate, deputy of NKR National Assembly Vitaly Balasanyan received 32.5 percent or 22966 votes. The third candidate Arkady Soghomonyan received 594 votes which is 0.8 percent of total votes. In the voting took part 72833 voter which is the 73.4 percent of total amount of people who have the right to vote. 98909 citizens had the right to vote in Artsakh. NKR Central Electoral Commission received only one application-complaint which is in the stage of discussion. Mr.Vitali Balasanyan was a real opposition. He gathered many votes, which 3 times exceeds votes of the opposition candidate of previous elections. This is a result of the unity of opposition; unfortunately none of the five political forces of Karabakh supported Balasanyan, although several parliament members did so.

The international community should be interested in establishing relations with the authorities elected by the Nagorno-Karabakh people, especially as it is envisaged by the mandate of the OSCE Minsk Conference.

This commentary was contributed to CEW by Atom Mkhitaryan , Director of Armenian Centre for Electoral Systems. He may be contacted at ([email protected]).