Ara Harutiunian, a businessman and former prime minister, cruised to a comfortable victory in the second round of Nagorno-Karabakh’s presidential election held on Tuesday amid concerns about the spread of coronavirus in the Armenian-populated territory.
Official election results released on Wednesday showed Harutiunian winning 88 percent of the vote. His challenger and Karabakh’s outgoing foreign minister, Masis Mayilian, got 12 percent.
Harutiunian, 46, served as Karabakh’s prime minister from 2007-2017. He has extensive business interests in the region which had broken away from Azerbaijan in 1991.
The outcome of the runoff became a forgone conclusion after Mayilian urged supporters on April 5 to boycott it because of the coronavirus pandemic. Citing serious health risks, he earlier called for the vote to be postponed or cancelled altogether.
Mayilian “took note” of the official vote results but said they “have no significance whatsoever for our political team” because he did not campaign for the runoff. He also wished Harutiunian “success,” citing the “foreign policy-related importance” of the polls denounced by Azerbaijan.
The coronavirus-related concerns were apparently the main reason why only 45 percent of Karabakh’s 104,000 eligible voters cast their ballots on Tuesday. Turnout stood at 73 in the first round of voting held on March 31.
Karabakh Armenians also elected their new parliament on that day. Harutiunian’s Free Fatherland party won 16 of the 33 parliament seats. Four other political groups will also be represented in the local legislature.
Speaking after the announcement of his victory, Harutiunian said the economic fallout from coronavirus will be his administration’s first major challenge.
“We must unite not only in Artsakh (Karabakh) but also … rally around Armenia’s authorities as they now bear the main burden of responsibility for addressing that problem,” he told reporters. “Schadenfreude and political disagreements are our main enemy on this front.”
Armenia’s President Armen Sarkissian congratulated Harutiunian on his victory even before the announcement of the official results.
For his part, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian congratulated Karabakh Armenians on “completing the elections.” “They mandated authorities to further strengthen the security of Artsakh and represent it in the peace process,” Pashinian tweeted on Wednesday. “We continue our close cooperation with Artsakh to reach our common goals.”
Azerbaijan strongly condemned the Karabakh polls late last month, saying that they run counter to Azerbaijani and international law. It also said that that Karabakh 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.