What can we expect from the new president of Nagorno-Karabakh?
Former Prime Minister Arayik Harutyunyan has been elected president of Nagorno-Karabakh following the second round of voting, which was held on April 14 2020, despite the coronavirus risk.
In fact, the result of these elections was a consolidation of power in Karabakh, as the political party of the newly elected president, Free Homeland, also won the most seats of any party (16 out of 33) in the parliamentary elections that took place on March 31.
At the same time, experts believe that this new administration in Karabakh is opposed to the current government in Yerevan.
The second-most popular candidate in the presidential election, Foreign Minister Masis Mayilyan, called on his supporters to boycott the elections after the first round due to the health risk posed by the epidemic, and himself did not vote in the second round.
By the time the last round of elections was held, there were already 6 reported coronavirus cases, and a state of emergency was declared on April 12.
However, the authorities decided not to cancel the second round of elections, stating that they would ensure safe and sanitary conditions at polling stations.
These elections are particularly significant. In 2017, Nagorno-Karabakh adopted a new constitution, which stipulated that the republic must transition from a semi-presidential to a presidential model of government. This means that the new president will have considerably more power than his predecessor.
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There will be no protests. At least, not yet
Besides the state of emergency declared to counter the coronavirus, Nagorno-Karabakh has also been under martial law since 1991.
Since 1997, the practical application of martial law is somewhat abridged, that is, it does not restrict the democratic rights and freedoms of residents. However, the constant threat of war has always remained the main motivating factor for political activity for the Karabakh people.
Apparently, based on this idea, political forces decided not to hold protests after the second round for fear of causing destabilization.
Meanwhile, there is potential for future protests. This is evidenced by the low voter turnout in the second round.
According to the Central Election Committee (CEC), 47,165 people voted in the second round, or 44.9% of the total number of eligible voters. In the first round, the turnout was 76,712, or 73.5% of voters. There were 14 candidates at that time.
39,860 people voted for Arayik Harutyunyan in the second round, while 5,428 voted for Masis Mayilyan. During the first round, the numbers were, respectively: 36,076 (49.26%) and 19,360 (26.4% of the vote).
The low voter turnout in the second round, despite the fact that there were only two candidates participating instead of 14, indicates that citizens who voted for other candidates in the first round did not come out this time around and did not cast their ballots for Arayik Harutyunyan.
This is a potential impetus for protest.
Between the first and second rounds, the Revolutionary Party of Artsakh and the New Artsakh political bloc organized two rallies in support of Masis Mayilyan.
“After quarantine ends, we will definitely continue our fight against the corrupt regime. Our country was ruled by a criminal-oligarchic system, and the past elections helped to strengthen it. We will fight until this regime is overthrown,” says Tigran Petrosyan, chairman of an opposition party that is part of the New Artsakh political bloc.
Chairman of the Artsakh Revolutionary Party Artur Osipyan emphasized that, despite the fact that people are no longer actively protesting in the streets, representatives of the protest movement demand that the authorities resign and “answer for their actions before the law.”
Choice between a financier, diplomat and military
Local blogger David Simonyan says that in Karabakh, the choice was between a financier (Arayik Harutyunyan), a diplomat (Masis Mayilyan) and a military man (General Vitaly Balasanyan). People chose money, he writes.
Security expert Rachya Arzumanyan believes that as a result of the parliamentary and presidential elections, Karabakh has consolidated and formed a power that is opposed to the current government in Yerevan, and it can be used to take practical action.
“Artsakh [Nagorno-Karabakh] now has leverage that can cause a political upheaval in Armenia and send it back to the post-Soviet rut it managed to break out of,” says Arzumanyan.
International response to the elections
The international community took note of the elections, but does not believe that they will affect the status of Karabakh, which is not yet recognized by any country.
This assessment was made by the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, the European Union, Russia, Iran and several other countries immediately after the presidential and parliamentary elections on March 31.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev delivered a hard-hitting speech to the Council of Europe on April 14, which did not condemn the elections in Karabakh.
It is not yet clear when negotiations surrounding the Karabakh conflict will resume. It appears that they will be put on hold until the coronavirus situation improves.
The Armenian side insists that representatives of Nagorno-Karabakh participate in the negotiations, while Azerbaijan is categorically against it.