Update: It looks like Bako Sahakyan won with about 67% of the vote according to the preliminary counting.
The Presidential election in Artsakh is tomorrow. Yes, the unrecognized break-away nation is having its fifth presidential election. The last election was a landslide 85% victory for Bako Sahakyan. One pollster says that Bako as incumbent has a lock on 30% of the population (with his next competitor only having a lock on 3.5%). In theory, this leaves the majority of the population undecided which, if true, could lead to an exciting campaign. In reality, two of the other four competitors have no hope and defense minister Vitaly Balasanyan has only a slim chance. One pollster gives Sahakyan 75% of the vote.
Unfortunately, campaigning in Armenia and Artsakh is much more about attacking the candidate rather than critiquing their policies. One such “newsworthy” attack was blaming the stuffiness of a campaign meeting in a cramped room for a woman dying of a heart attack. Considering the attacks in Armenia for its 2011 parliamentary election were of a similar vein, it’s not reasonable to expect the campaigning in Artsakh to be much better.
A large number of international observers are expected with the Government of Artsakh sending out requests to NGOs to send observers. In contrast, as of mid-June there were only six local observers registered. While the international observer teams will write reports are the quality of the elections, undoubtedly the heads of this organizations will not recognize the legitimacy of the elections as happened in the 2007 election. Interestingly, the Government of Armenia sought permission to send their own observers. It’s not clear whether the observers will be legitimate or there to ensure the Republican’s guy wins (Sahakyan), or both. The authorities of Artsakh granted permission, and representatives from the Armenian National Assembly and Central Electoral Commission will join other international representatives such as a few Canadian MPs [Edit: and Russian MPs].
While the high number of observers is a good thing, they likely won’t make much of a difference if the election is conducted well but the government has already won through corruption. A former parliamentarian in Artsakh has criticized the Government for using administrative resources to support the incumbent, creating an election that is “free but not fair.” Supporting the idea that this won’t be a fair election, even if it’s procedurally “free,” is the exodus of independent reporters. The primary competitor Balasanyan points to lack of freedom of speech and expression as one of the current President Sahakyan’s failed promises. With the only TV station being essentially just the old state TV with a new logo, it’s clear that Sahakyan has a huge imbalance of power over his competitors.