STEPANAKERT (RFE-RL)–On Monday–officials in Mountainous Karabagh were tabulating the results of weekend municipal elections angrily denounced by Azerbaijan but touted by the leadership of the Armenian-populated territory as a manifestation of its commitment to democracy.
According to the Central Election Commission (CEC) of the Mountainous Karabagh Republic–61 percent of some 85,000 eligible voters cast their ballots on Sunday to choose the heads of administrations and legislative councils in about 200 local towns and villages.
The lowest voter turnout was registered in the Stepanakert mayoral election–the most closely watched race. Preliminary figures showed Pavel Najarian in the lead with 42.8 percent of the vote.
His main challenger–Eduard Aghabekian–received 34.5 percent of votes cast and is expected to receive the support by the three other–defeated candidates during the run-off scheduled for August 22. Aghabekian is also backed by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation. Some local observers believe that this puts Aghabekian in a strong position to become the next mayor of Stepanakert.
A former military medic–Aghabekian heads the social affairs committee of the MKR parliament and stands in opposition to President Arkady Ghoukasian. Najarian–on the other hand–enjoys the backing of Ghoukasian’s Democratic Artsakh Union (ZhAM) party.
The CEC is due to release vote results for the whole of the MKR later this week. Its chairman–Sergei Davtian–said the elections can already be considered a success.
"The Central Election Commission has achieved its goal," Dadtian said. "These elections were better organized and more interesting than the previous ones."
Davtian added that the CEC did not receive any reports of irregularities from candidates as of late afternoon. However–it is expected that some candidates will complain about material and moral government support given to their pro-establishment rivals during the election campaign.
Sunday’s vote provoked an angry reaction from Azerbaijan which insists that no elections held in Karabagh that are not under its supervision can be considered legitimate. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev on Thursday again vowed to bring Karabagh back under Baku’s control.
The outgoing secretary general of the Council of Europe–Walter Schwimmer–similarly criticized the holding of the polls last week–saying that such "one-sided actions are counter-productive" before the resolution of the Karabagh conflict.
The criticisms were brushed off by the Karabagh Armenia’s. "We don’t think that the international community and the European organizations in particular would be interested in the absence of government in Mountainous Karabakh," they said in a statement on Friday.
Armenia–for its part–lashed out at Azerbaijan–accusing it of exploiting the polls as well as the ongoing military exercise by Karabagh Armenian forces to "divert attention from its unwillingness to negotiate a lasting peace." Official Stepanakert has said that the ten-day exercise–which began last Tuesday–will test the combat-readiness of the MKR Defense Army in "defensive and counter-offensive operations."
In a separate development–the Karabagh authorities announced on Sunday the capture of an Azerbaijani soldier who reportedly tried to cross into Armenian-controlled territory through the heavily militarized frontline east of Karabagh. They said they informed the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe about the detention of the soldier identified as Anad Samedov. No further circumstances of Samedov’s capture were reported.