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New Karabakh Parliament Convenes, Elects Leadership

Ashot Ghulian, the newly reelected parliament speaker
Ashot Ghulian, the newly reelected parliament speaker
STEPANAKERT -- Nagorno-Karabakh's new parliament convened for the first time and elected its leadership today, more than two weeks after being elected in a vote criticized by Azerbaijan and the European Union, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

The May 23 polls were swept by the three political parties represented in the unrecognized republic's government. The largest of them, Prime Minister Ara Harutiunian's Azat Hayrenik (Free Fatherland) party, won 14 seats in the 33-member legislature.

The Democratic Artsakh Party of outgoing parliament speaker Ashot Ghulian came in second with 10 seats, followed by the Karabakh branch of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation with six seats. The remaining three deputies are also loyal to Karabakh President Bako Sahakian and his coalition government.

Despite not leading the largest parliamentary faction, Ghulian was overwhelmingly reelected as speaker. In an ensuing speech, he portrayed this situation as proof of "political solidarity" among Nagorno-Karabakh's three coalition partners. The Karabakh parliament also swiftly chose the chairmen of its standing committees representing the three parties.

Azerbaijan has always condemned elections held in the Armenian-controlled disputed region, and the May 23 vote was no exception. The Azerbaijani Central Election Commission denounced it as a "farce."

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton similarly called the Karabakh elections illegitimate and said they "should not prejudice the peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict."

But the French, Russian, and U.S. mediators co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group gave a far more cautious assessment of the polls. In a joint May 24 statement, they said they understand the "need for the de facto authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh to try to organize democratically the public life of their population with such a procedure."