By Hrant Aleksanian in Stepanakert
The Nagorno-Karabakh branch of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), the main political opponent of the authorities in Stepanakert until recently, has now endorsed the unrecognized republic's president, Arkady Ghukasian, for the upcoming presidential elections.
Local Dashnaktsutyun leaders said Monday that they made the decision late last week after striking a far-reaching deal with Ghukasian that could land the pan-Armenian nationalist party top posts in the Karabakh government for the first time in ten years. They had decided earlier not to field their own presidential candidate, in a move that left Ghukasian without a serious challenger to his reelection bid.
"Dashnaktsutyun has decided to participate in the August 11 elections and support the candidacy of the incumbent president," a senior member of the party, Aliosha Gabrielian, told RFE/RL. He said its leaders concluded that their candidate would not poll more than 30 percent of the vote and chose instead to reach a mutually beneficial agreement with the presidential administration.
"The real force with which it is possible to carry out reforms in Artsakh (Karabakh) is its current president," Gabrielian explained, adding that Dashnaktsutyun expects to win major representation in the Karabakh government in return for its crucial support. He said the Karabakh Dashnaks and Ghukasian have agreed to launch a "joint struggle" against corruption which "should start from the law-enforcement agencies."
Gabrielian also said that Ghukasian has pledged to "enable Dashnaktsutyun to deal with the Karabakh economy and structural reforms." But he would not be drawn on which concrete ministerial posts will be given to the party.
Dashnaktsutyun controls nine seats in the 33-member Karabakh parliament and about the same percentage of local governments. Its leadership has accused Ghukasian in the past of seeking to tighten his grip on power and thwart the disputed region's democratization. But it has considerably toned down its criticism of the Karabakh authorities over the past year.
Ghukasian, meanwhile, is heading for an easy victory over three other presidential candidates. The best known of them is Artur Tovmasian, a former speaker of the parliament.