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By Karine Kalantarian in Stepanakert
The candidate backed by the leadership and main political parties of Nagorno-Karabakh scored a resounding victory in Thursday’s presidential election, local election officials said on Friday.

According to the preliminary vote results released by the Central Election Commission (NSS), Bako Sahakian, the former head of Karabakh’s National Security Service, won 85 percent of the vote. They showed his main challenger, Masis Mayilian, coming in a distant second with only 12 percent.

The CEC put the voter turnout at just over 77 percent.

Mayilian quickly conceded defeat, saying that he will congratulate Sahakian after the publication of the final vote results. “I consider Bako Sahakian a legitimately elected president and respect the choice of our people,” he told a news conference in Stepanakert.

Mayilian, who was the unrecognized republic’s deputy foreign minister until recently, described the election as a further boost to Karabakh’s “democratic image.” “Our team has done everything in its power to give our citizens a real choice and to hold the elections within the bounds of law,” he said.

The Mayilian campaign lodged more than 20 written complaints to the CEC alleging ballot box stuffing and other irregularities. Most of those complaints were rejected by the CEC. The commission chairman, Sergey Nasibian, told RFE/RL that election officials confirmed and prevented some of the attempted violations reported by the opposition candidate.

Mayilian agreed that the alleged fraud was not serious enough to affect the election outcome. “Even if there were falsifications, most votes were properly counted,” he said.

The nearly one hundred observers from Armenia, Russia, Europe and the United States, most of them monitoring the vote in their private capacity, also described it as largely democratic in separate statements on Friday.

Leading international organizations and Western governments have joined Azerbaijan in denouncing the election, saying that it can not be deemed legitimate in the absence of the disputed region’s former Azerbaijani minority.

“The European Union underlines that it does not recognize the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh,” the EU’s Portuguese presidency said in a statement on Thursday. “Neither does it recognize the legitimacy of these ‘presidential elections,’ which should not have any impact on the peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.”

The authorities in Stepanakert and Yerevan have dismissed the criticism, arguing that the Karabakh Armenians should be represented in the ongoing peace talks by their elected leaders.

“These elections testify to the success of a statehood anchored in democratic values,” President Robert Kocharian said in a congratulatory message to Sahakian. “They once again demonstrated the irreversibility of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic’s existence.”

(Photolur photo: Bako Sahakian.)
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