Artsakh Presidential Elections Set for Runoff

STEPANAKERT — Former prime minister Arayik Harutiunyan won the first round of a presidential election in Nagorno-Karabakh and will face second place finished, Masis Mayilyan, in a runoff two weeks later, according to preliminary vote results released on Wednesday.

The Central Election Commission (CEC) said more than 73 percent of Karabakh’s 104,300 eligible cast ballots in the polls.

As many as 14 candidates were running for president in Artsakh, while 10 parties and 2 alliances were competing for seats in the National Assembly.

According to the initial results, presidential candidates Arayik Harutyunyan garnered 36,076 votes or 49.26% of the votes, Masis Mayilyan – 19,360 votes or 26.4% of the votes, Vitaly Balasanyan – 10,755 votes or 14.7% of the votes and Ashot Ghulyan – 1,683 votes or 2.3% of the votes.

None of the presidential candidates was openly backed during the election campaign by Bako Sahakyan, the outgoing Karabakh president, or Armenia’s political leadership. Both frontrunners as well as Balasanyan used to hold major positions in Sahakyan’s administration.

Balasanyan has been a bitter critic of the current Armenian government and Prime Minister Nikol Pashiniyan in particular ever since he resigned as Karabakh’s top security official last year. Pashinyan’s political allies have accused the general of maintaining close ties with Armenia’s former leadership overthrown in the 2018 “Velvet Revolution.”

Harutiunyan has a much more cordial relationship with the Pashinian government. The 46-year-old served as Karabakh’s prime minister from 2007-2017. He has extensive business interests in the territory.

The official results also show Harutiunyan’s Free Fatherland party winning the largest number of seats in Karabakh’s next parliament also elected on Tuesday. The party won over 40 percent of the vote.

The United Homeland party of Samvel Babayan, another retired general, finished second with 23.6 percent of the vote. Babayan had led Karabakh’s defense army during and after the 1991-1994 war with Azerbaijan.

Also winning parliament seats were three other Karabakh parties: Balasanyan’s Justice (7.9 percent), the Karabakh branch of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (6.4 percent) and the Democratic Party (5.8 percent). The latter is led by Ashot Ghulyan, the outgoing parliament speaker.