3 December, 2019 09:28

Еlections in Nagorno-Karabakh: What You Need to Know

By Karen Harutyunyan

In April 2020, parliamentary and presidential elections will be held in Nagorno-Karabakh. With these elections, the new constitution, adopted in February of 2017, will take full effect. 

Why are the two elections held simultaneously?

In a February 2017 referendum, Karabakh’s constitution was amended to transform the country from a semi-presidential system of governance to a presidential one. The institution of prime minister was abolished, and the president became the head of government, while also being the head of the country.

The term of the current Karabakh parliament expires in April 2020. According to the constitution, before the end of the term of the current parliament, the new president should be elected by parliament. The parliament elected Bako Sahakyan as President, although he was finishing his second and final term according to the previous constitution. After the transition period the president must be elected by popular vote for a 5-year term.

Why was the Constitution changed in Karabakh?

Armenia’s former President Serzh Sargsyan changed Armenia’s Constitution in December of 2015, transforming the country from a semi-presidential system to a parliamentary one. Despite his promise that he would not run for the position of either prime minister, or president following the end of his term as president, Sargsyan was nominated and elected prime minister by a then majority-Republican led parliament in April 2018. As a result, massive street protests broke out throughout Armenia, and Serzh Sargsyan resigned as prime minister a few days later.

In Karabakh, Bako Sahakyan, following the example of Serzh Sargsyan, also changed the constitution in an apparent attempt to hold on to power. According to Karabakh’s new constitution, in addition to three years of presidency at transitional stage, Sahakyan could run for president two more times, holding on to power until 2030. After Armenia’s 2018 “velvet revolution” and as a result of street protests in Stepanakert in summer of 2018, demanding his resignation, Bako Sahakyan announced that he would not run in the 2020 presidential elections.

It is noteworthy that one of the main authors of both Armenia’s and Karabakh’s new constitutions is Hrayr Tovmasyan, the current Chairman of the Constitutional Court of Armenia.

Who has been nominated for the position of the president of Karabakh?

- Vitaly Balasanyan: former Secretary of the Security Council and hero of the Karabakh war  

- Kristine Balayan: for the first time in the history of Karabakh, a woman candidate was nominated 

- Ashot Ghulyan: head of the Democratic Party of Artsakh and current Chairman of the National Assembly

- Hayk Hanumyan, the founder of opposition party National Revival 

- Ruslan Israelyan, the leader of the Independence Generation party

- Arayik Harutyunyan: former prime minister and head of the Free Motherland Party, which has the biggest faction in the current 33-member Parliament

- Masis Mayilyan: current foreign minister

Samvel Babayan, former commander of the Karabakh Defence army and leader of the newly created United Motherland Party, was not allowed to participate in the presidential elections because he did not meet the citizenship and permanent residency requirement over the past five years. Babayan collected the necessary number of signatures to change this provision of the constitution, but the requirement remained unchanged. 

The deadline for nominations is February 2020. Before that, alliances and new nominations are possible.

What is the position of the Armenian government?

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has not expressed public support for any politician or party. On Sunday, Pashinyan met with Karabakh President Bako Sahakyan in Stepanakert, and stressed the importance of "free and transparent organization of the upcoming elections in Artsakh." 

Pashinyan also met with presidential candidates Arayik Harutyunyan, Ashot Ghulyan and Masis Mayilyan. However, he did not meet other candidates, including Hayk Khanumyan, who was the most vocal supporter of the "velvet revolution" in Armenia.

Twenty-seven parties are registered in Karabakh. Up to 15 parties are expected to participate in the upcoming parliamentary elections.

In picture: Official opening ceremony of the CONIFA European Football Cup 2019 at the Republican Stadium of Stepanakert,  06.01.2019, Photolur