Armenia’s government allocated on Thursday 33.7 million drams ($70,000) in funding to two civil society groups for monitoring upcoming local elections in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Voters there will elect on September 8 the mayors of the capital Stepanakert and other Karabakh towns and villages as well as local councils.
The mayoral race in Stepanakert is expected to be particularly tight, with five candidates participating in it. The city’s incumbent mayor, Suren Grigorian, is not seeking reelection.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian stressed the importance of the funding provided by his government to the Stepanakert office of the Yerevan-based Union of Informed Citizens (UIC) and Transparency International’s affiliate organization in Armenia. Both groups will use the money for organizing election monitoring missions in Karabakh.
“As I said [recently,] the government of Armenia and I personally believe that Armenia must help to create additional safeguards in order to guarantee the free expression of the Artsakh people’s will,” Pashinian said at a cabinet meeting in Yerevan. “This action is part of those measures, which is unprecedented, if I’m not mistaken.”
Vahram Tokmajian, the head of the UIC’s Karabakh branch, expects the upcoming polls to be watched by a record-high number of local monitors.
“I think that this is very good, for Artsakh (Karabakh) in the first instance,” Tokmajian said of the government’s decision. “We will have monitors in around 40 polling stations, while our partner organization will deploy them in 40 other polling stations.”
“We will also have mobile groups that will tour various precincts. On top of that, we will hold courses for local monitors,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
Karabakh is also scheduled to hold presidential and parliamentary elections early next year. The region’s incumbent president, Bako Sahakian, is not eligible for another term in office. He has been in power since 2007.
Neither Sahakian nor Pashinian has endorsed any potential presidential candidates so far. Speaking at an August 5 rally in Stepanakert, Pashinian said the Armenian government will act as a “guarantor” of the freedom and fairness of next year’s Karabakh elections.