Voters in Nagorno-Karabakh will go to the polls on July 19 in a presidential election which is shaping up as a two-horse race between the disputed territory’s current president and a retired army general who played a major role in the war with Azerbaijan.
The incumbent, Bako Sahakian, and General Vitali Balasanian, a former deputy commander of the Karabakh Armenian army, were formally registered as presidential candidates along with two other, less known individuals on Friday.
Sahakian’s reelection bid is backed by the three political parties represented in the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic’s government and parliament.
One of them, the local branch of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), has endorsed Sahakian despite the fact that Balasanian is a non-partisan member of its parliamentary faction. Balasanian has criticized the move and claimed that most Dashnaktsutyun members in Karabakh support his candidacy.
The 53-year-old general commanded Karabakh Armenians forces in the eastern Askeran district during the 1991-1994 war. He has kept a low profile since resigning from the military about a decade ago.
“I don’t accept the foreign, socioeconomic and other internal policies pursued by the current authorities,” Balasanian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) on Friday. “I have appropriate programs and am not just complaining that the authorities have failed delivered on promises given five years ago. We will talk about that and ways of solving the problems.”
Balasanian has yet to publicize those programs and, in particular, his views on how to resolve the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. He said he will do that during the election campaign that officially starts on June 20.
Sahakian, for his part, defended his track record in office in a recent speech in Stepanakert. “The question of whether I and my colleagues have the moral right to seek to carry on with this mission is very important to me,” he said. “I believe that we have earned such a moral right during these years, which serves as the basis for my decision [to run for reelection.]”
Elections held in Karabakh have always been condemned by Azerbaijan. Major foreign powers have also criticized the polls, saying that their results cannot be deemed legitimate by the international community as long as the Karabakh conflict remains unresolved.