By Hrant Alexanian
More than 370 registered candidates, who are running for the office of the head of the 223 communities in Nagorno-Karabakh, have started today the official election campaign. The local elections will be held on September 5. However, the candidates will have no chance to convince voters that they have better promises than their rivals. The new election law in Karabakh apparently forbids the candidates to promise something to their voters.
The chairman of the Central Electoral Commission Sergey Davitian is determined to punish those candidates who will try to gain support of the voters by giving them campaign promises. The so-called "Promising" candidates will be disqualified and removed from the race by the CEC. But it is unclear how the CEC is going to enforce the controversial regulation on the local level. The CEC chairman believes that the new law will be enforced and violators will be punished, because the key officials in the new local electoral commissions have been appointed for five years and they will be paid for the job.
The officials of the electoral commissions say it is impossible to have a free and fair election process if authorities are directly or indirectly involved in it. During last local elections, many voters cast their ballots not for their convictions, but because they were bribed or promised something, the election officials say.
Some local observers believe that the voters in Nagorno-Karabakh are still susceptible for bribes, because they continue to leave in a very harsh economic and social environment. However, the head of the Central Electoral Commission Davitian is confident that this time people in Karabakh are politically more mature and they are not afraid to express their opinion at the ballot boxes. According to Davitian, compare to the last local elections, September elections will proceed in a stable political environment. The Karabakh chief election watchdog also claims that the authorities want to have free elections.
The election campaign is expected to be tough in the cities and regional administrative centers. But the race for the office of the mayor of Stepanakert, the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, will be the toughest one. There are 9 candidates, running for the mayor's office. The local observers predict that two main candidates will decide the fate of elections in Stepanakert. Maxim Mirzoyan, a candidate from the local Dashnak party, has better chances to win. But as the local experts say, Mirzoyan can win the elections, only if local authorities refrain from supporting the other candidate, Hambik Avanessian, who is a member of the pro-government party, the "Union of Democratic Arzakh".