Bako Sahakian, Nagorno-Karabakh’s president, announced on Monday that he will not again seek reelection when his current term in office ends in 2020.
Sahakian controversially extended his decade-long rule after Karabakh enacted a new constitution in a referendum held in February 2017. The new constitution calls for the Armenian-populated region’s transition by 2020 to a fully presidential system of government.
The authorities in Stepanakert said that this change will put Karabakh in a better position to cope with the unresolved conflict with Azerbaijan. Their opponents insisted, however, that Sahakian is simply keen to hold on to power.
In July, the Karabakh parliament voted to allow Sahakian to remain in power during the three-year “transition period.” The Karabakh leader did not say until now whether he will run in the next presidential election due in 2020.
“I want to officially declare that I will not participate in those elections as a presidential candidate,” Sahakian told Armenia’s and Karabakh’s public televisions. Instead, he said in remarks cited by the Armenpress news agency, he will take “all necessary measures” to ensure that the vote is free and fair.
The announcement followed the resignations of several top Karabakh officials resulting from a June 1 violent dispute in Stepanakert between several officers of Karabakh’s National Security Service (NSS) and other local residents.
The brawl triggered angry demonstrations against what their participants see as impunity enjoyed by law-enforcement officials and their relatives. About 200 people blocked Stepanakert’s main avenue for four days, demanding the resignation of the NSS and police chiefs.
Several individuals, including three NSS officers, were arrested and the Karabakh government pledged to ensure an objective criminal investigation. These assurances failed to satisfy the protesters. The protests ended only after a June 4 appeal from Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian.
Two days later, the chiefs of the local police and NSS as well as the Karabakh state minister, Arayik Harutiunian, tendered their resignations.
Sahakian insisted on Monday that the protests did not cause a political crisis in Karabakh. He admitted, though, that they exposed public discontent with his administration and especially some of its officials. He said the authorities in Stepanakert will draw necessary “conclusions” from the unrest. In particular, he said, they will now appoint more competent individuals enjoying “the people’s trust” to key positions.