Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian inspected frontline troops and discussed the conduct of a forthcoming presidential election in Nagorno-Karabakh during a weekend visit to the Armenian-populated territory.
Pashinian and Bako Sahakian, the Karabakh president, met in Stepanakert after jointly touring Karabakh Armenian army positions along the “line of contact” with Azerbaijan.
The election due in March or early April was a key theme of their conversation. According to Pashinian’s office, they discussed ways of organizing it in a “free and transparent” manner.
The two men went on to hold a separate meeting with three of the main presidential candidates: Karabakh parliament speaker Ashot Ghulian, the unrecognized republic’s current foreign minister, Masis Mayilian, and Arayik Harutiunian, a former prime minister. A leader of the Karabakh branch of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) was also in attendance.
Another major candidate, retired General Vitaly Balasanian, was conspicuously absent from the meeting. Balasanian served as Sahakian’s top security aide until he was sacked in June after strongly criticizing Pashinian. He stepped up his verbal attacks on the Armenian prime minister in the following months, prompting angry responses from the latter’s political allies.
Also seeking to enter the fray is Samvel Babayan, who was the commander of Karabakh’s Armenian-backed army during and after the 1991-1994 war with Azerbaijan. Karabakh law bars Babayan from running from president because he has lived in Armenia and Russia since 2004. The Karabakh parliament last month rejected his demands for a referendum on the abolition of this requirement.
The current Karabakh president has been in power since 2007. Neither he nor Pashinian has endorsed any of the presidential hopefuls so far.
An Armenian government statement said Pashinian stressed the importance of ensuing that the presidential ballot, which is expected to be the most competitive and unpredictable in Karabakh’s history, is free and fair. He said his government will do everything to contribute to its proper conduct.
Pashinian also briefed the three candidates on Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks and his administration’s efforts to strengthen the Armenian military.
The premier spoke of “huge” positive changes taking place in the military when he addressed on Saturday several dozen soldiers in northern Karabakh. “It is usually said that the army and security is a priority but I will say that the army and security are the priority of priorities,” he said.