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Armenia Praises Karabakh Polls


Nagorno-Karabakh -- Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian (C), Karabakh President Bako Sahakian (R) and Archbishop Pargev Martirosian leave a newly built church in Stepanakert, May 9, 2019.

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian on Thursday described the latest presidential and parliamentary elections in Nagorno-Karabakh as democratic and said they could facilitate a resolution of the Karabakh conflict.

“I think that those were high-quality elections and that is evidenced by their official results,” Pashinian said as he opened a weekly cabinet meeting in Yerevan.

“The unprecedentedly large number of presidential candidates and participants of the parliamentary elections is quite telling,” he said. “Also quite telling is the fact that opposition, rather than pro-government, forces finished second and third in the parliamentary elections.”

“And I think that further development of democracy in Artsakh (Karabakh) is important also in terms achieving a just settlement of the conflict and security and stability in the region,” added Pashinian.

Azerbaijan strongly condemned the Karabakh elections held on Tuesday, saying that they run counter to Azerbaijani and international law. It also said that that the Armenian-populated territory, which broke away from Azerbaijani rule in 19991, is governed by an “illegal regime installed by Armenia.”

U.S., Russian and French diplomats co-heading the OSCE Minsk Group stressed, for their part, that Karabakh is not recognized as an independent state by the international community and that “the so-called general elections” cannot predetermine the outcome of Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks mediated by them.

The mediators noted at the same time that they “recognize the role of the population of Nagorno-Karabakh in deciding its future” as part of a future resolution of the conflict.

The Armenian Foreign Ministry called the latter point “noteworthy,” saying that peace proposals made by the three mediating powers uphold the Karabakh Armenians’ right to self-determination.

Official election results showed Ara Harutiunian, a wealthy businessman and Karabakh’s former prime minister, winning the first round of the presidential ballot with over 49 percent of the vote. Masis Mayilian, the outgoing Karabakh foreign minister, came in second with 26.4 percent, meaning that the two men will face each other in a runoff two weeks later.

Also, five parties won seats in the Karabakh legislature. Harutiunian’s Free Fatherland will control the largest number of seats but will lack an overall majority.

Both Harutiunian and Mayilian have good relations with the current Armenian government, unlike Vitaly Balasanian, a retired general who finished third in the presidential race.

Balasanian has harshly criticized Pashinian over the past year. Pashinian’s political allies have responded by accusing him of maintaining close ties with Serzh Sarkisian, Armenia’s former president toppled in the 2018 “Velvet Revolution.”

Incidentally, Sarkisian also praised the conduct of the “democratic” elections and urged all Karabakh factions to recognize their official results.

Mayilian stopped short of doing so in a statement released on Thursday. “We are now holding political consultations and will inform the public about our further steps in the coming days,” he said.

Balasanian made clear, meanwhile, that he will not endorse Harutiunian or Mayilian ahead of the planned runoff because of his “ideological differences” with them. He also urged the rival camps to “avoid upheavals and destabilization.”

Both Mayilian and Balasanian again criticized the authorities in Stepanakert for not postponing the polls because of serious concerns about the spread of coronavirus in Karabakh. Mayilian pointed out that the coronavirus epidemic inhibited the work of hundreds of election observers who arrived from Armenia.

Some of those observers reported serious irregularities on election day. They were particularly alarmed by the fact that many Karabakh voters photographed their marked ballots before casting them.

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