Twenty-eight of the 33 members of the National Assembly of Nagorno Karabakh voted to keep incumbent Bako Sahakyan as president for at least three more years. The July 19 vote came as Sahakyan’s second five-year term was due to conclude in September.
The arrangement stemmed from a new constitutional framework adopted in the referendum last February. Starting in 2020, the president and the National Assembly of Nagorno Karabakh will be elected in concurrently held elections, both for five year terms. The constitutional change allowed for the three year gap to be covered via parliamentary vote for president.
In a debate prior to the vote, the incumbent’s only challenger, opposition MP and former mayor of Stepanakert Eduard Aghabekyan argued that keeping the same person in power for too long leads to stagnation. He also criticized Sahakyan’s record in handling Nagorno Karabakh’s security challenges, particularly during the April 2016 war. Aghabekyan received four votes in his support.
Critics saw the constitutional referendum as a way to extend Sahakyan’s presidential term beyond the two five-year terms he was limited to, when first elected in 2007. Sahakyan’s predecessor, Arkady Ghoukasyan left the office after serving two terms (1997-2007). Robert Kocharyan was first elected president of Nagorno Karabakh in a parliamentary vote in 1994, then in a national vote in 1996, but resigned to become Armenia’s prime minister in 1997.
From 1991 to 1994 Nagorno Karabakh did not have a president, with the country led by the speaker of parliament and the prime minister. From 1992 to 1994, during the most intense period of the Karabakh war, the parliament delegated most of its powers to the State Defense Committee.