STEPANAKERT — Authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh have registered no cases of coronavirus so far and are not planning to cancel presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for March 31, a senior official in Stepanakert said on Wednesday.
“If such a decision [to delay the elections] was made there would be an official statement to that effect,” Tigran Abrahamyan, a spokesman for a Karabakh task force coordinating measures against coronavirus, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
Earlier in the day, the task force urged Karabakh residents to refrain for the next seven days from travelling to Armenia where the number of confirmed coronavirus cases reached 265 the previous night.
The spread of the COVID-19 virus has led the Armenian government to declare a state of emergency and cancel a constitutional referendum that was due to be held on April 5. It has also fuelled calls for the Karabakh polls to be postponed by several months.
Abrahamyan stressed that no coronavirus cases have been recorded in Karabakh so far. He said the authorities in Stepanakert have quarantined, as a precautionary measure, more than two dozen people, most of them Karabakh students of Armenian and other foreign universities who have returned home due to the pandemic.
The official also said that all members of Karabakh election commissions will have protective gloves, face masks and hand sanitizers during the March 31 vote. Also, he said, they will give every Karabakh voter a single-use pen for signing registration documents at polling stations.
The idea of delaying the elections is backed by some political forces in Karabakh, notably the opposition National Revival party. Its leader, Hayk Khanumyan, argued on Wednesday that the polls are due to be monitored by hundreds of observers from Armenia. He said they would pose a health risk for Karabakh.
Daniel Ioannisyan, a Yerevan-based civic activist whose Union of Informed Citizens plans to deploy 100 election observers in Karabakh, sought to allay these fears. He argued that hundreds of people are continuing to travel between Karabakh and Armenia on a daily basis.
“We will measure the temperature of all our observers both in Yerevan and right before their entry into polling stations,” said Ioannisyan. “The observers’ physical contacts in Karabakh will be reduced to a minimum, and we already have sufficient quantities of face masks and hand sanitizers for them.”
The upcoming elections are expected to be the most democratic, competitive and unpredictable in Karabakh’s history.
Observers believe that only three of the 14 presidential candidates stand a chance of succeeding Bako Sahakyan, Karabakh’s outgoing president who has been in office since 2007. Those are Karabakh’s Foreign Minister Masis Mayiyian, former Prime Minister Arayik Harutiunyan and retired army General Vitaly Balasanyan.
The Karabakh parliamentary race is also tightly contested, with over 300 candidates representing 12 parties and blocs vying for 32 seats in the local legislature.