Citing the coronavirus pandemic, the candidate who finished second in the first round of Nagorno-Karabakh’s presidential election has called on supporters to boycott a runoff vote scheduled for April 14.
Masis Mayilian has at the same time refrained from withdrawing from the race.
Official results of the March 31 election showed Ara Harutiunian, a wealthy businessman and Karabakh’s former prime minister, winning over 49 percent of the vote. Mayilian garnered 26.4 percent, meaning that the ballot has to go into a runoff.
The vote went ahead despite serious concerns about the spread of coronavirus in Karabakh. Mayilian and several other presidential candidates demanded its postponement during the election campaign. The authorities in Stepanakert countered that precautionary measures taken by them helped to prevent any coronavirus cases in Karabakh so far.
In a weekend statement, Mayilian, who is also Karabakh outgoing foreign minister, said his supporters should stay away from polling stations on April 14 because of the “growing danger of coronavirus.”
He also criticized the authorities’ handling of the polls, saying it was “very far” from Karabakh residents’ expectations of democratization. He cited in that regard the findings of election observers from Armenia that reported voter irregularities.
Still, Mayilian “took note” of the official results and stopped short of explicitly rejecting them as fraudulent.
The election runner-up has avoided any contacts with the media since March 31. He did not answer phone calls from RFE/RL’s Armenian service on Monday.
The chairwoman of Karabakh’s Central Election Commission (CEC), Srbuhi Arzumanian, said it has received no formal notifications from Mayilian about his withdrawal from the race. This means, she said, that his name will be on the ballot on April 14.
Meanwhile, Harutiunian signaled support for the holding of the second round. “There are only several days to go [before the runoff,] and we should … finish the elections,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service from Stepanakert.
Asked whether he is urging supporters to again go to the polls, Harutiunian said: “Let the CEC announce the final results [of the first round] first and I will appeal to my compatriots after that.”
Karabakh Armenians also elected on March 31 their new parliament. Harutiunian’s Free Fatherland party won more than 40 percent of those votes and will have the largest number of parliament seats.
Azerbaijan strongly condemned the Karabakh elections, 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 1991, 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.
By contrast, Armenia defended the holding of the elections marke by high voter turnout. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian described the polls as democratic and said they could facilitate a resolution of the Karabakh conflict.