Monday, August 23, 2004

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

23 August 2004

Opposition Candidate Elected Mayor Of Stepanakert

By Hrant Aleksanian in Stepanakert

An opposition candidate pulled off a surprise upset against the leadership of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) on Sunday when he was elected as mayor of its capital Stepanakert.

Eduard Aghabekian, who has so far headed the social affairs committee of the Karabakh parliament, cruised to a comfortable victory over his government-backed rival Pavel Najarian in the second, decisive round of the election. He won 58.6 percent of the vote, according to the Central Election Commission.

The outcome of the run-of vote could herald a serious change in local politics dominated until now by the NKR President Arkady Ghukasian. Stepanakert is home to a large part of the Armenian-populated region's population.

Aghabekian hailed his victory as a triumph of democracy and pledged to live up to his voters' expectations. `Time for speaking on behalf of the people is gone. It is now time to work for the people,' he told RFE/RL.

Aghabekian trailed Najarian by more than 8 percentage points after the first of voting held on August 9 as part of local elections across the region. He has been endorsed by the Karabakh branch of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) and Stepanakert's outgoing mayor, Hamik Avanesian.

Aghabekian said the vote should also send a strong message to the international community. `We have shown the international community that elections in our unrecognized republics can be a success,' he said. `The country has remained peaceful and calm after the first round of voting. This means that a process of democratization is underway.'

The Karabakh elections have been angrily denounced as illegitimate by Azerbaijan. The outgoing secretary general of the Council of Europe, Walter Schwimmer, has similarly criticized them, saying that such `one-sided actions are counter-productive' before a resolution of the Karabakh conflict.

The NKR leadership, backed by Armenia proper, has rejected the criticism, repeating its argument that only elected representatives can govern the Karabakh Armenians.

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