Lawmakers in Nagorno-Karabakh voted on Wednesday to extend the decade-long rule of its president, Bako Sahakian, by three years, a move criticized by his political opponents.
Sahakian, 56, was reelected at the end of his second five-year term in office. He was not allowed to stay in power longer before Karabakh enacted a new constitution in a referendum held in February.
The new constitution calls for the Armenian-populated region’s transition by 2020 to a fully presidential system of government which will lead to the abolition of the post of prime minister. The authorities in Stepanakert say this 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 cling to power.
Karabakh will be governed by an interim president until 2020. Sahakian’s candidacy for that post was backed by 28 of the 33 members of the local parliament representing three political parties allied to him. His sole challenger, former Stepanakert Mayor Eduard Aghabekian, got four votes.
Addressing the legislature before the vote, Sahakian said that Karabakh will need continued “stability” during the three-year transition period. He also defended his track record, saying that his administration has strengthened democracy and sped up economic growth in the last ten years.
By contrast, Aghabekian made a case for a leadership change in Stepanakert, saying that countries stagnate when they are ruled by the same person or government for too long. The opposition candidate, who leads a party called Movement-88, also said that the current authorities have for years ignored his calls for strengthening the Karabakh Armenian military in the face of a growing military threat from Azerbaijan. Accordingly, he criticized their handling of the April 2016 heavy fighting with Azerbaijani forces.
Sahakian countered that Azerbaijani offensives launched at two sections of the Karabakh “line of contact” last year failed to achieve their main objectives. He also said that the Karabakh government is now addressing “problems” exposed by the four-day hostilities and will continue to strengthen Karabakh’s armed forces.
Incidentally, Sahakian met with Armenia’s Defense Minister Vigen Sargsian in Stepanakert on Monday. His press office said that they discussed “issues related to army building and cooperation between the two Armenian states in this sphere.”