Karabakh presidential election, 2007

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Karabakh-vote3.jpg By Karine Kalantarian in Stepanakert

Polls closed across Nagorno-Karabakh late Thursday in a presidential election which is widely expected to formalize the handover of power from the unrecognized republic’s outgoing President Arkady Ghukasian to his preferred successor backed by some of his political opponents.

According to the local Central Election Commission (CEC), almost two-thirds of Karabakh’s 90,000 eligible voters cast their ballots as of 5 p.m. local time. The CEC is due to release the preliminary vote results within 24 hours by Friday evening.

“Once again the people of Nagorno-Karabakh have confirmed their support for democratic values,” Bako Sahakian, the presumed election frontrunner backed by Ghukasian and the main local political parties, told reporters at a polling station in Stepanakert. “For us, elections are a way of forming civil society.”

However, Sahakian’s main challenger, Masis Mayilian, already alleged vote irregularities after casting his ballot in another Stepanakert precinct in the morning. His campaign headquarters lodged more than a dozen written complaints detailing alleged irregularities to the CEC by the time voting drew to close at 8 p.m.

Both Ghukasian and Sahakian were quick to reject the allegations as “black PR,” saying that the elections are free and fair. “I regret that black PR, dirty political techniques have been brought to Karabakh from Armenia,” said Ghukasian. “I am convinced that the vast majority of those complaints do not correspond to reality.”

But as Sergey Nasibian, the CEC chairman, said later in the day, some of the alleged irregularities, including an attempt at multiple voting in one polling station, were found to have taken place. Nasibian said the CEC will closely look into the other claims made by the Mayilian camp.

The vote was monitored by about one hundred monitors from Armenia, Russia, the United States and Europe, including a member of the European Parliament. The Italian parliamentarian, Giulietto Chiesa, told RFE/RL that he did not witness violations in any of the polling stations he visited.

Ghukasian and the presidential candidates were unanimous in dismissing international criticism of the election. “The elections are held not for the international community but the people of Nagorno-Karabakh,” he said.