STEPANAKERT (RFE/RL)—The Nagorno-Karabakh Republic’s new parliament convened for the first time and chose its leadership on Thursday more than two weeks after being elected in a vote criticized by Azerbaijan and the European Union.
The May 23 polls were swept by the three political parties represented in the republic’s government. The largest of them, Prime Minister Ara Harutiunian’s Azat Hayrenik (Free Fatherland), won 14 seats in the 33-member legislature.
The Democratic Artsakh Party (ZhAK) of outgoing parliament speaker Ashot Ghulian came in second with 10 seats, followed by the Karabakh branch of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (6 seats). The remaining three deputies are also loyal to Karabakh President Bako Sahakian and his coalition government.
Despite not leading the largest parliament faction, Ghulian was overwhelmingly reelected as speaker. In an ensuing speech, he portrayed that as proof of “political solidarity” among the three coalition partners. The Karabakh parliament also swiftly chose the chairmen of its standing committees representing the three parties.
Azerbaijan has always condemned elections held in Karabakh, and the May 23 vote was no exception. The Azerbaijani Central Election Commission denounced it as a “farce.”
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton similarly called the Karabakh elections illegitimate and said they “should not prejudice the peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.”
But the French, Russian and U.S. mediators co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group gave a far more cautious assessment of the polls. In a joint May 24 statement, they said they understand the “need for the de facto authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh to try to organize democratically the public life of their population with such a procedure.”
Since declaring its independence from the crumbling Soviet Union in 1991, democratic elections have been a top priority for the government of Nagorno-Karabakh. President Bako Sahakian stressed that point in a speech congratulating the newly-elected members of parliament.
“On May 23, the people of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) once again displayed great discipline and civic responsibility by casting their votes for the sake of a strong and prosperous future for Artsakh,” said Sahakian, stressing the importance of a democratic parliament that represents the will of the people. “The people gave their vote of confidence to you and you are obliged to justify it in every way possible.”
Sahakian said Karabakh’s parliament has a “pivotal” role in the country’s young democracy. The National Assembly, he continued, is responsible for the improvement of the republic’s laws, the strengthening of its democratic principles, the protection of government checks and balances and the country’s integration with the international community.
Sahakian pointed to the election as a renewed testament that the independence of Karabakh is “irreversible” and that “the people of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic have the ability to master their own fate, and build a free, independent, democratic country.”