Candidates Register for Elections in Karabakh

(RFE/RL)–The Central Electoral Commission (CEC) of Nagorno-Karabakh registered three candidates for upcoming presidential elections on July 19–including incumbent president Arkady Ghoukassian.

Former speaker of the Karabakh parliament Artur Tovmasian and the head of the Civic Initiative organization Grigory Afanasyan will challenge president Ghoukassian in the August 11 presidential election.

The leader of the Christian Democratic Party Albert Ghazarian–who was also seeking registration as a presidential candidate–was not present CEC session for undisclosed reasons.

All potential candidates have until July 22 to register for the elections.

The Council of Europe and other international organizations had not officially recognized the parliamentary and presidential elections held in Karabakh during recent years.

Current President Arkady Ghoukassian announced his belief that the international community will welcome the elections–because the only alternative to democratic elections is the establishment of a dictatorship.

"I am confident that there will be uproar in Azerbaijan and that the Azerbaijani leadership will strongly protest. Some countries will possibly react to Azerbaijani protests. However–everyone understands that elections are necessary. If they accept the fact that Nagorno-Karabakh is a party in this conflict–and Nagorno-Karabakh is an unrecognized state–but it is a state–it would be important for them to deal with a government that has the mandate of the people," Ghoukassian stated.

According to public opinion polls Ghoukassian currently has the largest amount of support among the candidates that had registered on Friday. Local observers believe that he will easily win another presidential term.

"The pre-election atmosphere is quiet–and the most important thing for us is to have fair and free elections. The winner should win the vote in a fair manner," Ghoukassian said.

Independent electronic and print media in Nagorno-Karabakh is almost non-existent and the other registered candidates most probably will not have adequate access to the local television and radio stations to challenge the performance of the incumbent president and present alternative economic programs.

According to a public opinion poll conducted last May by Stepanakert Press Club–the majority of Nagorno-Karabakh population believe that the local media lacks objectivity in covering politics in the unrecognized republic. 30 percent of the respondents noted that democracy is non-existent in Nagorno-Karabakh.

The same number of respondents positively evaluated Ghoukassian’s performance as president. Ghoukassian told RFE/RL that the main goal of the state is gain independence. He repeated once more that–despite the election results–Nagorno-Karabakh will never become a part of Azerbaijan. "It is the mandate of our people and the winner in the presidential elections must have that mandate," he said.

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