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Karabakh Leader Faces Reelection Challenge From Opposition


Nagorno-Karabakh - The parliament building in Stepanakert, 2Sep2016.

An opposition member of Nagorno-Karabakh’s parliament announced on Wednesday his candidacy for the post of the unrecognized republic’s next, interim president that will be elected by local lawmakers later this month.

Eduard Aghabekian, a former mayor of Stepanakert, thus challenged Karabakh President Bako Sahakian’s controversial plans to extend his rule by at least three years. Aghabekian accused Sahakian’s administration of failing to address economic and security challenges facing the Armenian-populated territory.

In line with a new constitution enacted in a referendum in February, Karabakh will switch to the presidential system of government which will lead to the abolition of the post of prime minister. The authorities in Stepanakert say the constitutional change will put Karabakh in a better position to cope with the unresolved conflict with Azerbaijan. Their opponents maintain, however, Sahakian is simply keen to stay in power after he completes his second and what was supposed to be final five-year term in September 2017.

The new constitution will fully come into force after the current parliament dominated by Sahakian’s supporters serves out its term in 2020.Karabakh will be governed by an interim president chosen by the parliament until then.

Three pro-government parties holding the vast majority of parliament seats have already decided to back Sahakian’s reelection. The largest of those parties, Free Fatherland, is led by Ara Harutiunian, the Karabakh prime minister.

Another senior Free Fatherland figure, Artur Tovmasian, defended Sahakian’s track record, pointing to high rates of economic growth recorded by the Karabakh authorities. He said Sahakian has pledged to ensure that the local economy expands by around 10 percent annually for the next three years.

“If there are candidates who think that a growth rate of up to 50 percent is possible in Karabakh then it’s absurd,” Tovmasian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).

Aghabekian’s Movement-88 party holds only three parliament seats, compared with 28 seats controlled by Free Fatherand and the two other pro-government groups: the Democratic Party of Artsakh and the Karabakh branch of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun). Sahakian’s challenger may also be backed by Hayk Khanumian, the holder of another opposition party’s sole parliament seat.

“I personally have a positive attitude towards Aghabekian but believe that he stands no chance of getting elected,” Khanumian said on Wednesday.

Aghabekian admitted that he is unlikely to unseat Sahakian. He said he is primarily challenging the Karabakh leader in order to draw public attention to Karabakh’s lingering problems.

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