Campaigning officially started on Monday for the May 23 parliamentary elections in Nagorno-Karabakh that will be marked by a lack of candidates opposed to the unrecognized republic’s current leadership.
Four political parties and 45 individual candidates are vying for 33 seats in the local parliament. Seventeen of them are contested under the system of proportional representation, while the remaining seats will be distributed in 16 single-mandate constituencies.
The main contenders are the three parties making up Karabakh’s governing coalition. One of them, Azat Hayrenik (Free Fatherland) is led by Prime Minister Ara Harutiunian and has the largest faction in the current Karabakh legislature.
Also in the running are the Democratic Artsakh Party of parliament speaker Ashot Ghulian and the Karabakh branch of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun).
Dashnaktsutyun was, along with another local party, the main opposition force in the last parliamentary election held in May 2005. But it backed the current president of the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR), Bako Sahakian, in a presidential election held two years later and has been represented in his coalition government ever since.
The fourth contender, the Communist Party of Artsakh, is also loyal to Sahakian despite having no ministerial portfolios.
Another party, Sharzhum-88, which contested the 2005 vote in an alliance with Dashnaktsutyun, has chosen, for unknown reasons, not to run for parliament this time around. Still, one of its prominent members, former Stepanakert Mayor Eduard Aghabekian, is a candidate in one of the single-seat constituencies.
In a statement circulated through his office, Sahakian urged candidates to campaign for the upcoming elections with “civilized methods” and in a “constructive atmosphere.” The local Central Election Commission (CEC), for its part, pledged to ensure equal campaigning opportunities and rules for all of them.
“Equal conditions are put in place,” the CEC chairman, Sergey Nasibian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service on Monday. He said that in accordance with Karabakh law, all four parties will be entitled to between three and five minutes of free airtime a day on state television.
Gegham Baghdasarian, a member of the outgoing Karabakh parliament critical of the Sahakian administration, said the virtual absence of vocal government critics in the race makes the authorities in Stepanakert interested in holding a free and fair election. “They face no rival or unfriendly political force or even an individual,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “And in these circumstances, the authorities can allow a fair competition among their allies and cronies.”
Baghdasarian, who is not seeking reelection to the parliament, believes that this will hardly strengthen the democratic process. “It looks like there will not be even one independent deputy in the next parliament,” he argued.
Elections held in the Armenian-controlled disputed region have always been condemned by Azerbaijan. Major foreign powers have also criticized the polls, saying that their results can not be deemed legitimate by the international community as long as the Karabakh conflict remains unresolved.