By Emil Sanamyan
Former prime minister Arayik Harutyunyan took an early, strong lead in Nagorno Karabakh elections, according to vote counts broadcast live via Artsakh TV and figures released by his campaign. In live count from precinct 7/1 in Shushi, Harutyunyan led with between 45 and 50 percent of the vote, followed by Masis Mayilian and Vitaly Balasanyan in second and third places.
Shortly after midnight, Harutyunyan’s spokesperson Vahram Poghosyan claimed on his Facebook that Harutyunyan had won the election in one round, i.e. with more than fifty percent of the vote, but then rescinded the post, saying that his conclusion was based on incorrect numbers.
UPDATED on April 1: Preliminary results published by the Central Election Commission (CEC) put Harutyunyan at 49 percent of the vote, followed by Mayilian with 26 percent and Balasanyan at under 15 percent. The results mean that Harutyunyan and Mayilian would have to face each other in the second round that is supposed to be held in two weeks.
Preliminary results showed that Harutyunyan won in all of NKR’s districts and the capital Stepanakert. Mayilian came second in all districts, except for Balasanyan’s native Askeran district; there Balasanyan was second and Mayilian third.
Among the remaining candidates David Ishkhanyan of ARF Dashnaktsutyun won 2.56 percent of the vote, parliament speaker Ashot Ghulyan – 2.3 percent and opposition MP Hayk Khanumyan – 1.3 percent. The other eight candidates polled at below one percent each.
In a historic first for Armenia, there were two female candidates: Kristin Balayan won 0.3 percent of the vote and Bella Lalayan – 0.2 percent.
Harutyunyan also had a strong showing in parliamentary election, where his Free Fatherland Party won more that 40 percent of the vote, increasing its representation from 14 to 16 seats in the 33-seat National Assembly. Other parties winning seats included Samvel Babayan’s Unified Fatherland Party with 24 percent or 9 seats, Vitaly Balasanyan’s Justice Party and ARF Dashnaktsutyun won 3 seats each and Ashot Ghulyan’s Democrats – 2 seats.
Notably, Babayan backed Mayilian’s candidacy in the presidential vote. Mayilian-led New Artsakh Bloc was sixth with 4.5 percent of the vote and did not clear the minimum threshold for representation.
Harutyunyan’s party, Dashnaks and Democrats comprised a ruling coalition in the outgoing parliament.
Harutyunyan and Mayilian are left to contest the second round of elections that would be due on April 15. However, with COVID-19 spread continuing in Armenia – currently at 571 confirmed cases and found throughout the country – there is a strong chance that its spread to Artsakh will be officially confirmed in the days to come.
This, in turn, could trigger a postponement of the second round, halting the political transition from incumbent president Bako Sahakyan and leaving NKR with a de-facto split leadership.