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Bako Sahakian, Nagorno-Karabakh’s president, looks set to remain in power for at least three more years after controversial constitutional changes that were enacted earlier this year.

A new Karabakh constitution approved in a referendum in February abolished the post of prime minister and gave more powers to the president of the unrecognized republic.

Sahakian’s administration says a fully presidential system of government would put the Armenian-populated territory in a better position to cope with the unresolved conflict with Azerbaijan. Its opponents maintain, however, that the main purpose of the change is to enable him to stay in power after he completes his second and what was supposed to be final five-year term in September 2017.

The previous constitution barred him from seeking a third term. The new one essentially abolished this restriction. It will fully come into force after Karabakh’s current legislature dominated by Sahakian’s supporters serves out its term in 2020.

Karabakh would be governed by an interim president chosen by the parliament until then. The local legislature will meet to fill that position at the end of this month.

The Democratic Party of Artsakh, one of Karabakh’s main pro-government groups, formally nominated Sahakian’s candidacy for the interim presidency on Saturday. Free Fatherland, the largest parliamentary force headed by Ara Harutiunian, the Karabakh prime minister, is expected to follow suit at a conference slated for Wednesday.

Sahakian’s spokesman, Davit Babayan, confirmed that the Karabakh leader may extend his decade-long rule. “The law does not prohibit that,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).

Hayk Khanumian, the leader of the opposition Revival party, predicted that local lawmakers will duly vote for Sahakian. Khanumian said the constitutional change was always aimed at allowing him to cling to power.

In Armenia, meanwhile, President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK) voiced support on Monday for Sahakian’s continued rule. Eduard Sharmazanov, the HHK spokesman, dismissed critics’ concerns that it will reflect negatively on Karabakh’s declared democratic credentials and image abroad. “Many countries would dream about having a national leader like Bako Sahakian,” he said.

“For the Republic of Artsakh (Karabakh), the number one issue is security, and Bako Sahakian is the kind of leader who can solve it,” Sharmazanov told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).

Sahakian will also be able to run for president in 2020 and hold Karabakh’s top post for two consecutive terms.

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