Karabakh Parliament Race Kicks Off

STEPANAKERT (RFE/RL)—Campaigning officially started on Monday for the May 23 parliamentary elections in the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.

Four political parties and 45 individual candidates are vying for 33 seats in the local parliament. Seventeen of them are contested under the system of proportional representation, while the remaining seats will be distributed in 16 single-mandate constituencies.

The main contenders are the three parties making up Karabakh’s governing coalition. One of them, Azat Hayrenik (Free Fatherland) is led by Prime Minister Ara Harutiunian and has the largest faction in the current Karabakh legislature.

Also in the running are the Democratic Artsakh Party of parliament speaker Ashot Ghulian and the Karabakh branch of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation.

The ARF was, along with another local party, the main opposition force in the last parliamentary election held in May 2005. But it backed the current president of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Bako Sahakian, in a presidential election held two years later and has been represented in his coalition government ever since.

The fourth contender, the Communist Party of Artsakh, is also loyal to Sahakian despite having no ministerial portfolios.

Another party, Sharzhum-88, which contested the 2005 vote in an alliance with the ARF, has chosen, for unknown reasons, not to run for parliament this time around. Still, one of its prominent members, former Stepanakert Mayor Eduard Aghabekian, is a candidate in one of the single-seat constituencies.

In a statement circulated through his office, Sahakian urged candidates to campaign for the upcoming elections with “civilized methods” and in a “constructive atmosphere.” The local Central Election Commission, for its part, pledged to ensure equal campaigning opportunities and rules for all of them.

“Equal conditions are put in place,” the CEC chairman, Sergey Nasibian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service on Monday. He said that in accordance with Karabakh law, all four parties will be entitled to between three and five minutes of free airtime a day on state television.

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