Nagorno-Karabakh’s three main pro-government parties lost some ground to two opposition groups but still retained their comfortable majority in the local legislature in weekend elections strongly condemned by Azerbaijan.
According to Karabakh’s Central Election Commission (CEC), just over 70 percent of the territory’s 100,000 or so eligible voters cast ballots in Sunday’s elections.
The largest pro-government force, Free Fatherland, was their biggest winner, with preliminary official results giving it over 47 percent of votes counted under the system of proportional representation.
This means that the party will get around half of the 22 of the 33 Karabakh parliament seats contested on the party-list basis. Free Fatherland, which is led by Arayik Harutiunian, the Karabakh prime minister, also won 4 of the 11 seats distributed in single-mandate individual constituencies.
Its two allies, the Artsakh Democratic Party (AZhK) and the Karabakh chapter of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), won roughly 19 percent of the proportional representation vote each. They also prevailed in 2 and 3 individual constituencies respectively.
The AZhK is led by Ashot Ghulian, the current parliament speaker, while Dashnaktsutyun’s most influential figure in Karabakh is Artur Aghabekian, the Armenian-populated territory’s deputy prime minister.
Virtually all other members of Harutiunian’s cabinet are not affiliated with any party. Bako Sahakian, Karabakh’s president and most powerful official, also has no party affiliation. Sahakian is due to resign after completing his second five-year term next year.
Free Fatherland, the AZhK and Dashnaktsutyun are the only parties represented in the outgoing Karabakh parliament. They will be joined in the new assembly by two opposition parties: Movement-88 and National Revival.
The CEC figures also showed that Movement-88 and National Revival garnered 7 percent and 5.4 percent of the vote respectively. Both parties essentially accepted the official vote tally.
Vitaly Balasanian, a retired army general who topped Movement-88’s electoral slate, also won in one of the single-mandate electoral districts, putting the party on course to have 3 parliament seats. Balasanian was the main opposition candidate in Karabakh’s last presidential election.
Eduard Aghabekian, another Movement-88 leader, admitted that his party had hoped for a stronger showing and is disappointed with its results.
National Unity, which is highly critical of the authorities in Stepanakert, will have only one parliament deputy: its leader Hayk Khanumian. The latter said he is unhappy with the party’s performance, blaming it on a lack of campaign funds and use of government resources by the pro-establishment parties.
Still, Khanumian said he will make the most of his parliament seat. “For the past five years, parliamentary politics in Karabakh has not been public and transparent,” the 30-year-old told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “It will become public and transparent with our entry into the parliament.”
The Karabakh vote was monitored by several dozen foreign observers acting in a personal capacity or representing non-governmental organizations. They included several pro-Armenian members of the European Parliament affiliated with the unofficial Artsakh (Karabakh) Group in the European Union’s legislature.
“Overall, the electoral process took place in line with international standards and represents not only progress, but also a clear consolidation of democracy and rule of law in the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh,” they said in an interim report released on Monday.
“Proxies of most of the political parties, as well as of single-seat constituency candidates were present in all polling stations; neither they, nor voters voiced any violation of the electoral code,” added the report.
Frank Engel, one of the EU parliamentarians, said the elections demonstrated that Karabakh has a far more democratic political environment than Azerbaijan. “The country called Azerbaijan held a presidential election in 2013,” Engel told a news conference in Stepanakert. “Its results were announced even before the opening of the polling stations … We didn’t see such things in Karabakh.”
As was the case during the previous elections held in Karabakh, Azerbaijan condemned the latest vote as illegal and illegitimate. Baku on Friday also threatened to launch criminal proceedings against the foreign observers who travelled to “the occupied territories of Azerbaijan.”
The United States, Russia and France, the three world powers jointly trying to broker a solution to the Karabakh conflict, have reacted cautiously to the ballot. In a statement released late last week, the U.S., Russian and French co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group said it will “in no way prejudge the final status of Nagorno-Karabakh or the outcome of the ongoing negotiations” mediated by them.
The mediators made clear at the same time that they “recognize the role of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh in deciding their future.”