The main opposition candidate in Nagorno-Karabakh’s upcoming presidential election on Monday warned the authorities there to ensure its freedom and fairness, saying that vote rigging would be tantamount to high treason.
“I call on our authorities to refrain from fraud and do everything to hold free and fair elections because that is our future,” Vitali Balasanian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Balasanian warned that if Karabakh’s current ethnic Armenian leaders fail to hold a democratic vote they will place themselves alongside “traitors” who he said had assisted in the territory’s incorporation into Soviet Azerbaijan. “They would end up on the list of traitors in Armenian history,” he said.
A retired general who played a major role in the war with Azerbaijan, Balasanian is the main challenger of Bako Sahakian, the president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) running for reelection in the ballot scheduled for July 19. Sahakian’s reelection bid is backed by the three political parties represented in the NKR’s government and parliament.
One of them, the local branch of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), has endorsed the incumbent president despite the fact that Balasanian was a non-partisan member of its parliamentary faction. Balasanian claims that the decision was imposed on it by the nationalist party’s pan-Armenian leadership.
Balasanian on Monday again condemned Dashnaktsutyun’s “materialist and subservient” leaders in Karabakh and claimed to be supported by the vast majority of party members. “You will see just how active rank-and-file Dashnaktsutyun members will be during the elections because most of them are my comrades-in-arms who had served under my command,” he said. “Betraying the commander is not what some people imagine.”
The 53-year-old commanded Karabakh Armenians forces in the eastern Askeran district during the 1991-1994 war and held senior positions in the military until his resignation in 2005. He supported Sahakian in the last presidential election held in 2007.
The general claimed that he decided to run for president because the current Karabakh leader has failed to honor his pledges to “stick to the letter of the law and restore moral values.” He accused the authorities of trying to obstruct his election campaign. Still, he said he has held some 180 meetings with voters across the Armenian-populated disputed territory and is optimistic about the election outcome.
Balasanian also expressed confidence that the July 19 vote will foster Karabakh’s democratization in any case. “I believe that a [democratic] political field in Karabakh cannot be established without opposition,” he said. “Regardless of the presidential election results, I am confident that an opposition field will take shape and greatly contribute to stability and state building in Karabakh.”