Presidential elections in the separatist Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) are going to take place on 19 July 2007. 5 people were nominated for presidential candidates. Professor of Arcakh State University Vanik Avanesian is focusing on scientists working on the premises of university. The president of National Service of Security of Nagorno-Karabakh (NSB) Bako Sahakian has larger political support. His nomination was supported on 7 May 2007 by the chairmen of Democratic Party of Arcakh, Armenian Revolutionary Federation Dashnakcutyun of Arcakh (ARFD of Arcakh), Free Homeland (SV) and Movement – 88. The chairman of Communist Party of NKR appeals to the electorate’s nostalgia after social securities from the era of CCCP. Only two candidates – the Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs of NKR Masis Mailian and the member of National Assembly of NKR and a former commander of Armed Forces Armen Abgarian direct their campaigns on the protest electorate.
The current President of NKR Arkady Gukasian announced in November 2006 that he would not candidate for the post of President for his third term of office and he explained it by the regulations of valid election law. Although Gukasian declares neutrality towards the candidates, his preferences probably belong to Sahakian.
The party Free Homeland unanimously supported the nomination of Bako Sahakian on 26 May 2007. Re-elected chairman of the party Ararik Arutyunian emphasized that the party would not suggest its own candidate as the duty of political powers is to agree on one candidate. The party nowadays has 12 out of 33 parliamentary mandates in National Assembly of NKR.
Sahakian is supported not only by the above mentioned political subjects (except for Movement – 88, see further) but also by the Association of Soldiers – Liberators of Karabakh and by the Federation of Trade Unions. Sahakian himself welcomed the possibility of being nominated by a civil initiative in order to not offend any of the political parties that support him. According to the election law a presidential candidate can be suggested by political parties, party coalitions, and civil initiatives that have at least 50 citizens of NKR with voting rights.
The president of Armenia Robert Kocharian did not formally support Sahakian, but he is supported by Serge Sarkisian and his RPA. The relationship between Sahakian and the government party ARFD is clear as his candidature was supported by ARFD of Arcakh. Sahakian, according to all indications, is also the most acceptable candidate for RF which sees him as the continuator of the politics of Arkady Gukasian.
As to the government party of NKR Democratic Party of Arcakh, Sahakian’s support is the result of unsuccessful proceedings about the support of Gulian, another possible candidate, which did not have a positive outcome from the ARFD of Arcakh’s part. It is probable that the president of NKR Gukasian has favour Sahakian since he announced his decision not to be nominated again. Despite that he was giving false hope to the prime minister of NKR Ashot Gulian with the aim at ensuring support for the chairman of the National Assembly of NKR.
Members of Movement – 88, vice-chairman and the member of presidium Gegam Bagdasarian, member of presidium Margarita Karamian and member of the party Gagik Avanesian reacted to the above mentioned common declaration of Democratic party of Arcakh, ARFD of Arcakh, SR and Movement – 88 by publishing a declaration in which they claimed that the chairman of the party Eduard Agabekian was not empowered to sign a document on behalf of the party’s presidium because no session of the party’s presidium was summoned and there was no decision about Sahakian’s support accepted.
Movement – 88 and ARFD of Arcakh ran together within one coalition in the parliamentary elections in June 2005. After the elections ARFD of Arcakh refused to cooperate with Movement – 88 while both parties individually made opposition politics. An actual change of political behavior to pro-government has occurred in both parties and it was demonstrated by the expressed support of Sahakian. Movement – 88 entered political life with the elections of mayor in the city of Stepankert in August 2004, in which the movement’s chairman Eduard Agabekian was elected. During the mayor elections there were 7 people in the presidium of the party. In the time between the Stepankert’s mayor elections in August 2004 and parliamentary elections in June 2005 the most influential members of the party left Movement – 88: first Murad Petrosian because of his disagreement with the party’s program goals and after him also Karen Nerisisian and Valery Avanesian.
The party goes through a crisis presently as a result of the change of political orientation from opposition to pro-government. The rupture in the party confirms the internal anarchy of the party. The group around Gegam Bagdasarian supports Mailian’s candidature and it has a certain media influence. Bagdasarian himself is the editor in chief of periodical Demo, which is financed by the company named Conciliation Resources (1).
The political activity of media is also confirmed by the fact that on 17 May 2007 in Stepankerte a round table took place and the access to information through massmedia during the pre-election period were discussed. Most of all criticized was the information value of NKR’s public television. The event was organized by a youth organization Jedinenije (Unity) and members of youth organizations and representatives of media including Gegam Bagdasarian took part in it.
Masis Mailian focuses on opposition media in his struggle for gaining the support of voters and he is considered a NKR’s politician with the best relations with journalists. He uses pro-reform rhetoric in political discussions and he argues against non-transparency of political processes. Even though his candidature seems in comparison with other candidates the most real alternative to Sahakian it is improbable that he could beat Bako Sahakian who has a larger political and social support including Armenian political elites. In the same time the criticism of government parties is increasing and in some cases is the support of political powers rather compromising for Sahakian. An important role also plays the fact that Armenian and Karabakh public suspects Kocharian’s government that it made an agreement with Azerbaijan to retreat. According to the presiding OSCE Minsk group Armenia and Azerbaijan have never been so close before to signing a document about regulation of the Karabakh conflict (2).
Arguments impugning the legitimacy of Bako Sahakian’s candidature are voiced in the pre-election rhetoric. These arguments point out that Bako Sahakian did not reside in NKR in years 1997-1998 (he represented the system of National Security in Moscow) and thus does not meet the constitutional requirements of residence in NKR for at least 10 years; and also regarding the impeachment of validity of his university diploma from Arcakh State University. The election committee in the beginning of June decided that his candidacy is legitimate. The opposition also attacks the insufficient information of electorate and the non-transparency of political agreements. So far nothing shows that there are any scenarios of radical changes of political power through impugning the legitimacy of elections in NKR connected to presidential elections, because the legitimacy of the institute of elections in Nagorno-Karabakh is not (with the exception of countries from the Association of Unrecognized countries) accepted. To impugn the legitimacy of elections by political powers of NKR would be in conflict with the interests of NKR.
Parliamentary and presidential elections in Armenia (12.5.2007; February or March 2008) and presidential elections in Nagorno-Karabakh (19.7.2007) influence each other. The problem of Nagorno-Karabakh reflects in the fears of Armenian and Karabakh public that the official authorities in Armenia will agree on the military retreat from Nagorno-Karabakh and thus, naturally, the trust of public to pro-government parties is decreasing. The passing of protests in Armenia and the creation of Armenian government represent a stabilization factor in relation to political processes in Nagorno-Karabakh. Eventual shifts on political scene are hardly probable, but still they could weaken the positions of pro-government presidential candidates in Armenia.