KARABAKH GEARING UP FOR PRESIDENTIAL POLLS

Kavkazskiy Uzel
March 28 2012
Russia

[translated from Russian]

28 March: Active preparations for a presidential election scheduled
for July 2012 have started in [Azerbaijan's breakaway] Nagornyy
Karabakh. It has already been decided that the process of nomination
of candidates for president in the upcoming election will undergo
substantial changes, Nagornyy Karabakh's central electoral commission
said.

According to chairman of the central electoral commission Rashid
Petrosyan, the "initiative group" column will be removed from ballot
papers: "In the past, parties or initiative groups could nominate
candidates. But after amendments made to the NKR [Nagornyy Karabakh
republic] electoral code in 2010, an 'initiative group' does not have
any relation to the nomination process. A candidate can be nominated
by a party, or a candidate can be self-nominated."

The central electoral committee approved the form of application for
self-nomination of candidates in presidential elections, the new
form of the ballot paper and the licences of candidates' proxies,
as well as the mechanism of operation of polling stations.

Expanded list of parties

A new party - Party of Labour and Justice - was set up in Stepanakert
[Xankandi] in early March. It has not been registered with the
Nagornyy Karabakh ministry of justice, and, according to its leader
Marsel Petrosyan, everything will depend on the number [of its
members]. According to Nagornyy Karabakh's legislation, a new party
has to have at least 300 members in order to be registered.

Petrosyan noted that the "Party of Labour and Justice is a public and
political organization of European type based on social ideology". "A
decision has been made to set up a number of expert commissions
on defence, human rights and legality issues, on the development of
small and medium-sized businesses, on socio-political, socio-economic,
health, education, culture, youth, financial-credit, agrarian issues,"
the party's leader said, adding that the party was going to cooperate
with any political forces whose ideas coincided with its goals
and tasks.

According to him, the party will hold a meeting in the beginning of
April, where its platform will be approved and other organizational
issues will be discussed, including [the party's] registration and
participation in the forthcoming presidential election.

In January 2012, Eduard Aghabekyan, Stepanakert's ex-mayor, ex-MP and
ex-adviser to the prime minister, resumed the activity of his party
Movement-88. At the same time, Aghabekyan noted that his party was
an opposition force like it was many years ago. He asserted that he
had left politics because of health conditions, but now he felt much
better and was ready to become an active politician.

"Movement-88 is very likely to take part in the upcoming presidential
election and nominate its candidate for the post of Nagornyy Karabakh
president," he said.

Movement-88 was founded in 2004 as an opposition party. The main
task of the party was to "restore the national spirit of the times
of the start of the 1988 Karabakh movement and to restore civil
self-consciousness, social justice, true democracy, protection of
vital national interests".

The party took part in the municipal election in August 2004, according
to the results of which the party's leader Eduard Aghabekyan was
elected mayor of Stepanakert. In the parliamentary election of 2005,
Movement-88 and ARF [ Armenian Revolutionary Federation] Dashnaktsutyun
ran as a single bloc in Karabakh. In the presidential election of 2007,
Movement-88, among other Karabakh parties, supported the candidacy
of the incumbent president of Nagornyy Karabakh. In the years that
followed, the party did not appear on Karabakh's political scene. In
September 2011, Eduard Aghabekyan nominated his candidacy for the
post of mayor of Stepanakert, but finished third.

Leading parties not yet decided upon candidates

Chairman of the central committee of ARF Dashnaktsutyun in Nagornyy
Karabakh David Ishkhanyan noted that in November 2011 a decision was
made at the party's congress that the party would definitely take
part in the presidential election.

"But we have not made a final decision whether we will nominate our
own candidate or will support someone else. This issue will be solved
in the coming months," Ishkhanyan said.

"We have not been operating as an opposition force in the republic
since our party supported the candidacy of incumbent president Bako
Sahakyan in the latest presidential election in Karabakh in 2007,"
he said.

The leader of the Free Homeland party and prime minister of Nagornyy
Karabakh, Ara Harutyunyan, said at a meeting with journalists last
December that the party would voice its stance regarding presidential
election at its congress due to be held in 2012.

According to him, members of the party's council, as well as
ordinary members, will support the candidacy of the country's current
president. "If Nagornyy Karabakh's president Bako Sahakyan nominates
his candidacy in the forthcoming election, there will be no objections,
discussions and proposals from the party," Harutyunyan said.

Leader of the Communist Party of Artsakh [Karabakh] Hrant Melkumyan
noted that his party was "the most real opposition party in Karabakh,
though not an active one". At the same time, Melkumyan said that the
party had not decided yet if it would take part in the presidential
election.

"Financial resources are required to take part in elections today. Our
treasury is made of contributions and donations by the party members,"
Melkumyan said, adding that there are around 3,000 people in the
party aged 45 and older.

Also the Communist added that the issue of whether the Communist Party
of Artsakh would participate or not in the regular presidential
election would be decided at the [party's] congress. "If the
party decides that it should [take part in the election], we will
choose and nominate our candidate to run in the presidential race,"
Melkumyan said.

It should be noted that 10 political parties have officially
been registered in Nagornyy Karabakh as of today. These are the
Democratic Party of Artsakh, Free Homeland party, ARF Dashnaktsutyun,
the Communist Party of Artsakh, For Moral Revival party, Social
Justice, Our Home - Armenia, Movement-88, Armenakan and Christian
Democrats. Three political forces - the Democratic Party of Artsakh,
Free Homeland party and ARF Dashnaktsutyun - are represented in
Nagornyy Karabakh's parliament.

Three parties enough for Nagornyy Karabakh

The chairman of the standing commission on foreign relations of the
Nagornyy Karabakh national assembly [parliament], Vahram Atanesyan,
says that if there is a challenge from society, the political system
must respond to it.

"I think that the leader of Movement-88 party, by resuming his
political activity, is running a big risk, in the sense that he was
nominated as candidate for the post of Stepanakert mayor in September
2011 when he did not have the public support he could rely on. He made
this audacious step thinking that the public reaction would be strong,
but this did not happen in the end," the politician said.

Atanesyan doubts that the Nagornyy Karabakh community needs an active
opposition party. "However, I am a supporter of a system where there is
a purposeful state forming force, there are opponents who use their own
views for the further development of the Nagornyy Karabakh republic,"
he said.

According to Atanesyan, Karabakh society does not remember Movement-88
anymore.

"I do not rule out that there are people in society who share the
policy pursued by Aghabekyan. But it is rather difficult to lead
this public opinion. In addition, Movement-88 party must try real
hard to bring back the trust of society as happened many years ago,"
the MP said.

As to the new Party of Labour and Justice, Vahram Atanesyan considers
it to be "premature to say anything about it" as he strongly doubts
that this party's leaders have any potential as political figures.

At the same time, he noted that not 10 but only three political parties
should exist in Karabakh. "It is quite enough to have three parties in
Karabakh at most, these are Communists, Nationalists and Democrats,
there is no need for the fourth option. It is enough if these people
embrace the whole political spectrum. Meanwhile, in the current
geopolitical situation and strategic conditions the opposition must
be represented by the Democrats," said the chairman of the standing
commission on foreign relations of Karabakh's national assembly.

All parties are imitation

In the meantime, the local population gives different assessment to
the political activity of current parties ahead of the presidential
election.

In particular, resident of Stepanakert Darina Sukiasyan was
surprised to learn that there were 10 political parties operating
in Nagornyy Karabakh. "I know only four to three parties that are
in parliament, and the Communists. I have not heard anything about
the others. Probably, they are not needed, as nothing is known about
them," the woman said.

Driver Suren Atanesyan confessed that once he was a supporter of
opposition ideas and backed the opposition. "I will not support
any party in Karabakh - neither supporters of the authorities, nor
those who declare themselves opposition. All parties are imitation,
in reality no one cares about people," he said.

A student of Artsakh state university and member of ARF
Dashnaktsutyun's youth wing, Lilya N, is confident that Dashnaktsutyun
is the most fair and reliable party in Karabakh.

As Kavkazskiy Uzel reported, on 18 September [2011] the fifth local
government elections were held in Nagornyy Karabakh. The voter turnout
in the elections was from 60 to 65 per cent. The observers said there
had been no violations in the voting process. However, several states
did not recognize the elections.

In May 2010, parliamentary elections were held in Nagornyy
Karabakh. The voter turnout was 70 per cent. As a result, Free Homeland
party received majority of votes, gaining support of 46 per cent of
voters. Despite the presence of over 60 observers from different
countries of the world, this election was not recognized by the
international community either. Azerbaijan considers the procedure to
be illegal. The chairman of the central electoral commission said then
that Nagornyy Karabakh did not attach importance to these statements.