Candidates Emerge for Karabakh Presidency

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Clockwise from top-left: Balasanyan, Harutyunyan, Balayan and Mayilyan. Collage from Карабахский Колорит facebook page.

Although presidential elections in Artsakh are not formally due until the middle of 2020, several individuals have already made their interests in the position public. This has spurred further speculation that incumbent Bako Sahakyan might resign as early as this year.

On February 5, in his interview with RFE/RL NKR’s former defense minister Samvel Babayan said he was considering a run. He acknowledged that he did not meet the residency requirement. After his arrest on charges of trying to assassinate then NKR president Arkady Ghoukasyan in March 2000, Babayan spent several years in prison, then after his release on amnesty moved to Yerevan and for a time also lived in Moscow. He said that his supporters would begin signature collection in the effort to overturn the residency restriction. At the same time he hinted that he would only run if he gets Armenian prime minister Nikol Pashinyan’s support.

The day after, NKR’s former deputy primer minister Artur Aghabekyan opined that the candidacy of former prime minister Arayik Harutyunyan “has no alternatives.” Aghabekyan positively recalled his work with Harutyunyan. The latter leads the Free Fatherland party that has the most seats in NKR parliament, whereas Aghabekyan is affiliated with Dashnaktsutyun, which also has several seats. Harutyunyan has also sought to win the support of Pashinyan government.

Yet another retired general Vitaly Balasanyan, presidential hopeful during 2012 elections and currently secretary of the National Security Council, is also considering a run. Last month, Balasanyan criticized the Armenian government for its prosecution of ex-president Robert Kocharyan and former senior military officers, calling the charges of “constitutional overthrow” after 2008 elections “ridiculous.” In other words, Balasanyan is so far the only potential candidate who isn’t counting on Yerevan’s backing.

Finally, Artsakhtsis in social media have also speculated that foreign minister Masis Mayilyan, a presidential hopeful in 2007, might also run. According to media reports, he has not rejected such a possibility.

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