Balasanyan on the right distributing campaign materials on March 20, 2020. Campaign photo.

Officials in Artsakh and Armenia have indicated that the election campaign will proceed as scheduled in spite of the global shutdown caused by the rapid spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus. Artsakh’s general election is scheduled for March 31. Earlier this week, Armenia’s government declared the state of emergency over the virus spread, cancelling a constitutional referendum previously scheduled for April 5.

Whereas Armenia has 160 confirmed cases of COVID-19, none have so far been confirmed in Artsakh. UPDATED: According to Artsakh’s human rights ombudsman Artak Beglaryan, 71 Artsakh residents had been tested as of March 17, all tests were negative.

Speaking in parliament on March 18, prime minister Nikol Pashinyan said he “saw no reason” to have the elections postponed since no Covid-19 cases have been found in Artsakh. With the general election now days away, another second round of elections is likely and would have to take place two weeks after the first, with more campaigning in the interim. 

Speaking at a campaign event in Mardakert on March 20, the election’s presumptive favorite Arayik Harutyunyan, referring to COVID pandemic, recalled that Artsakh’s first election in December 1991 was held amid escalating fighting with Azerbaijan and stressed the need for formation of a legitimate authority in Artsakh. 

Another leading contender, Masis Mayilian also continued campaigning.

Fellow candidate Vitaly Balasanyan struck a different tone, accusing Artsakh authorities of “negligence” and saying that he would no longer organize large campaign events. He also demanded that the government report on ongoing preparations for the pandemic in Artsakh. On March 20, Balasanyan was seen personally distributing his pre-election materials, while wearing a face mask.

Armenia’s former human rights ombudsman Larisa Alaverdyan also criticized the government for the lack of preventive measures ahead of the elections and called for thorough testing to be conducted in Artsakh for COVID-19. For now, officials have reportedly posted medical personnel to measure temperature of people arriving in Artsakh via main highways.

Meantime, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) suspended its twice a month monitoring of the Armenian-Azerbaijan Line of Contact, citing the closure of borders between Georgia – where the OSCE office is based – and Armenia and Azerbaijan. 

Considering widespread travel restrictions, the elections in Artsakh will likely proceed with little to no foreign observation.