By Emilio Luciano Cricchio
Presidential and parliamentary elections in Nagorno-Karabakh are due to be held on March 31, 2020, as announced by the Central Electoral Commission.
The upcoming elections are set to be the most competitive since 1991, with dozens of parties and politicians already announcing their plans to run.
Presidential and parliamentary elections will be held simultaneously for the first time, in accordance with the new constitution that was adopted in February 2017.
Approved by a referendum in 2017, the new constitution transformed Karabakh’s political system from a semi-presidential to a presidential one. The position of prime minister was abolished, and the president became both head of government and head of state.
Bako Sahakyan, the current President of Nagorno-Karabakh has served as president since 2007, has served two terms and was not eligible to run for another term.
However, the term of the current Nagorno-Karabakh parliament will expire in April 2020. According to the new constitution, before the end of its term, a new president should be elected by parliament. The parliament elected incumbent president Bako Sahakyan in 2017, although he was finishing his second and final term according to the previous constitution.
In addition, after the transition period, the president must be elected by popular vote, and will serve for a five year term.
Furthermore, the newly adopted constitution did give Sahakyan the possibility to run for two more terms, as well as allowing him to serve as president in the transitional period between 2017-2020, following a presidential election in 2017, which he won.
Sahakyan was preparing to run for president again in 2020, but following the 2018 Armenian Revolution, he changed course, possibly due to the circumstances which befell Serzh Sargsyan, the former President of Armenia, who faced mass protests after attempting to hold on to power. Shortly after, Sahakyan announced that he would not run again.
Political analysts have spoken and written that the Constitution of Nagorno-Karabakh was amended in order to give Bako Sahakyan two more opportunities to run and rule Nagorno-Karabakh until 2030.
Although the 2018 Armenian Revolution did not reach Nagorno-Karabakh in the same way it affected Armenia, the ripples of the revolution have still had an impact. The events significantly changed the political environment of Nagorno-Karabakh, shifting alliances and the platforms of parties and political figures.
Since gaining independence in 1991, Nagorno-Karabakh has had three presidents: Robert Kocharyan (1994-1997), Arkadi Ghukasyan (1997-2007), and Bako Sahakyan (2007-2020).
The 2020 Presidential Race: Meet the Candidates
Badasyan is the leader and founder of the United Armenia Party.
He was originally elected to the National Assembly as a member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF).
A former military commander in the Nagorno-Karabakh Army, he is also calling for Nagorno-Karabakh to unify with Armenia.
Badasyan has furthermore been a critic of the current authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh, and was one of the few political figures in Nagorno-Karabakh who supported Nikol Pashinyan and the protests which culminated in the 2018 Velvet Revolution.
Vitaly Balasanyan, Hero of Artsakh, is a former Secretary of the National Security Council of Nagorno-Karabakh and a retired Major General, has also announced his candidacy.
Balasanyan rose to prominence during the Nagorno-Karabakh War and was the main challenger to Bako Sahakyan in the 2012 presidential elections, coming in second place with a third of the vote.
He is an outspoken critic of Nikol Pashinyan’s government and supports Pashinyan’s archrival, former President Robert Kocharyan, who is currently in jail.
Kristin Balayan is the first female candidate running for the position of President of Nagorno-Karabakh. Balayan was also a former member of the Democratic Party of Artsakh, and will be running as an independent. She is also the President of the Artsakh Arts Forum.
Ashot Ghulyan is the current President of the National Assembly of Nagorno-Karabakh and leader of the Democratic Party of Artsakh, which has six seats in the assembly as part of the governing coalition.
A former prime minister and state minister of Nagorno-Karabakh, Harutyunyan is one of the current co-leaders of the Free Motherland Party (AHK), which has 14 of the 33 seats in the National Assembly and is part of the current governing coalition.
Furthermore, he is one of the wealthiest individuals in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Harutyunyan was able to deepen relations with the new authorities of Armenia during and immediately after the Armenian Revolution. He is known to have held both public and closed meetings with Armenian authorities, including Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.
The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), which is part of the ruling coalition in Nagorno-Karabakh, has nominated Ishkhanyan, a local Central Committee member, to be its candidate for the presidency.
Hayk Khanumyan is the leader of the National Revival Party, which has a single seat in Artsakh’s National Assembly.
Khanumyan is an opposition lawmaker in the current parliament of Nagorno-Karabakh who has consistently criticized the current Nagorno-Karabakh government, including Bako Sahakyan and former prime minister, Arayik Harutyunyan.
A graduate of international relations of the Yerevan State University and the University of Strasbourg, he moved to Nagorno-Karabakh from Armenia to teach at the Artsakh State University, later founding the National Renaissance Party. During the Armenian Revolution, Khanumyan and his party members publicly supported Nikol Pashinyan.
Masis Mayilyan, Karabakh’s Foreign Minister, will be running as an independent. In the 2007 presidential election, Mayilyan was Bako Sahakyan’s main rival, receiving roughly 12 percent of the vote.
On January 29, Mayilyan wrote on Facebook that he had received the endorsement of three political parties, including the Ramgavar Party of Artsakh, the Identity and Unity Party of Artsakh and the Tomorrow Party. A joint session was held in Stepanakert where the participants formed an electoral alliance.
The Parliamentary Election Race
Arayik Harutyunyan’s Free Homeland Party currently has the most seats in the National Assembly of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Opposition politicians have complained that Harutyunyan is using financial and administrative levers and has already been running a campaign for almost a year.
However, several other parties have the opportunity to enter parliament.
Samvel Babayan’s New Homeland Party is currently an extra-parliamentary opposition party, meaning it has no seats in the National Assembly. The ex-defense minister of Nagorno-Karabakh cannot take part in the presidential race because he has not been permanently living in Nagorno-Karabakh for the past five years.
Vitaly Balasanyan’s Justice Party, Ashot Ghulyan’s Democratic Party of Artsakh, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, Hayk Khanumyan’s National Renaissance Party, Badasyan’s United Armenia Party and a number of other parties have also announced their intention to participate in the parliamentary elections.