STEPANAKERT—More than 75 percent of eligible voters in the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic turned out to vote on a new Constitution on Monday, with almost 88 percent of them overwhelmingly approving a package of reforms, which included making Artsakh an absolute presidential government.
The Nagorno-Karabakh Republic Central Electoral Commission published the results of the voting late Monday, saying that 79,428 citizens, or 76.52 percent of eligible voters turned out to vote in 11 electoral districts. The tally also included Artsakh residents who voted in Yerevan. Of those voters, 69,540 voters, or 87.52 percent voted in favor of the new constitution while 7,686 voters, or 9.7 percent oppositng the reforms. The Artsakh CEC also deemed 2,202, or 2.8 percent, of the ballots as invalid.
Under the new constitution, a draft of which was unveiled in November, the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic will officially be renamed Artsakh Republic, with its boundaries outlined as “the territory under factual jurisdiction of the Artsakh Republic.”
A special commission on constitutional reforms for the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, headed by National Assembly Speaker Ashot Ghulyan, said back in November that the key changes to the existing constitution aimed to clearly define the branches of the government, shifting Artsakh into a presidential form of government, from the current power-sharing mechanism between the executive and legislative branches.
The new Constitution will fully come into force after Karabakh’s current parliament ends its term in 2020. The parliament will choose an interim president, who will serve until 2020 when new presidential elections will be held. President Bako Sahakian, who hailed Monday’s vote as another democrativ victory for Artsakh, will be eligible to run in 2020.
The Armenian Revolutionary Federation of Artsakh issued a statement late last year opposing the constitutional reforms. During the process, it had argued for a parliamentary system of government for Artsakh that, it deemed more democratic and mirroring the system in Armenia.
In an interview in January, published in the Artsakh-based Aparaj newspaper, the chair of the ARF Central Committee of Artsakh and ARF Parliamentary faction head David Ishkhanyan said, “the constitution must strengthen our national goals and must not leave us with any doubts… It should also be the basis for our democratic principles.”
“There were certain factors of the constitution like the change system of government and simultaneous elections that the ARF was against. We also had a more radical approach to the solution of our borders,” explained Ishkhanyan in that interview, adding that the ARF’s opposition to the reforms did not mean that the party would become an opposition force in Artsakh’s political landscape.
The Artsakh CEC chairwoman, Srbuhi Arzumanyan, said Monday that her office had not received formal reports of irregularities from local, Armenian or more than a hundred international observers.
One of the observers, Frank Engel, a member of the European Parliament from Luxembourg, told reports in Stepanakert that there was nothing problematic about the referendum, adding that “I would hope that more actors in the international community take note of the fact that in this part of the South Caucasus people decide freely.”
International monitors from Armenia, Russia, the EU, the US, South America and other parts of the world converged on Artsakh over the weekend to monitor the elections, with an overwhelming majority of them deeming the vote fair.
Azerbaijan, of course, opposed the referendum, calling Monday’s vote illegal.
In a joint statement issued late last week, the U.S., Russian and French co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group stressed that the referendum results will “in no way prejudge the final status of Nagorno-Karabakh or the outcome of the ongoing negotiations” on a peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
The new Constitution will continue the traditions of state building enshrined in the first constitution, further strengthen the sovereignty of the country, and promote human rights and the rule of law, to improve public administration, fortify the independent judiciary and reform the local self-government,” said the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic Foreign Ministry in a statement Tuesday.
“The referendum on 20 February has become another act of expression of will by the people of Artsakh, in exercising their right to determine their own future, as enshrined in fundamental international documents,” added the Artsakh Foreign Ministry.
“The attempts of Baku to suppress by all means, including military, this inherent right of the people of Artsakh, lead to the outbreak of the armed conflict. It remains a major source of persistent tension in the region and the reason for the lack of progress in the resolution of the Azerbaijani-Karabakh conflict,” said the Artsakh Foreign Ministry statement. “The democratic development of Artsakh’s statehood is an irreversible process. Reluctance of Azerbaijan to recognize this fact through denial of the right to self-determination realized by the people of Artsakh is an attempt to return to the past, which is doomed to failure.”
Armenia hailed the Monday vote with its Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian calling the referendum “another substantiation of the determination of the people of Artsakh to govern their life through democratic processes.”
“It is commendable that more than hundred international observers representing three dozen countries assessed the Referendum as well organized, transparent and in line with international standards,” said Nalbandian.
“The exercise of fundamental freedoms is a universal right that cannot be subject to limitations. For quarter of a century Nagorno-Karabakh has been conducting processes inherent to democratic societies and there is no doubt that the people of Artsakh have certainly gained the right to live according to the same universal values that the free democratic world enjoys,” said the foreign minister.
“Once again the people of Artsakh demonstrated that their will to build a democratic society is irreversible notwithstanding all odds of continuous use of force and threat of force, economic blockade and other hostile actions perpetrated by Azerbaijan. It does not come as a surprise that the ongoing democratic processes in Artsakh are met with such an extreme discontent in Azerbaijan – a country notorious with its human rights violations,” added Nalbandian.