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Armenian Opposition Leader Quits Karabakh Election Race


By Hrant Aleksanian in Stepanakert and Karine Kalantarian

An Armenian opposition politician, Hrant Khachatrian, backed down from his intention to contest next month’s presidential elections in Nagorno-Karabakh late on Friday, just hours after filing for registration as an election candidate.

Khachatrian’s representatives in Stepanakert failed to submit any signatures of voters to the Karabakh Central Election Commission before the midnight deadline. They had received official signatures forms earlier in the day.

Khachatrian’s Union for Constitutional Rights (SIM) party argued that it was impossible to collect the required 1,500 signatures within several hours. The SIM also said that his attempt to run for president was in fact a public relations campaign aimed at propagating the opposition party’s belief that the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic is a part of Armenia and that any Armenian citizen can participate in NKR elections.

“We had little time to collect sufficient signatures and realized that it was too late,” a leading member of the SIM, Hayk Babukhanian, told RFE/RL in Yerevan on Saturday. “We just wanted to remind that the December 1989 act of Artsakh’s reunification with Armenia still has a legal force.”

The 1989 declaration adopted by the Armenian Supreme Soviet and legislators from the then Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast is no longer regarded as an official document by the authorities in Yerevan and Stepanakert -- a position denounced by the SIM and some other nationalist groups.

The chairman of the Karabakh CEC said this week that Khachatrian is not eligible to stand in the August 11 elections because he is not an NKR citizen.

But according to Karen Mirzoyan, a Khachatrian proxy in Stepanakert, the CEC effectively accepted the SIM eligibility by giving the signature documents to his representatives. Mirzoyan claimed that none of the commission members has raised with him the issue of citizenship.
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