REPORT ON LOCAL ELECTIONS IN AZERBAIJAN
17 December 2004
Rapporteur: Wim Van Gelder (Netherlands, EPP/CD, R)
by the Bureau of the Congress on 23 February 2005
Following the invitation by Mazahir Panahov, Chairman of the Central Election Commission of the Republic of Azerbaijan, the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe (the Congress) decided to send a delegation to observe the Municipal Elections scheduled for 17 December 2004 in Azerbaijan. This delegation comprised Mr Wim Van Gelder (Netherlands), Mr Sean O'Brien (Ireland), Ms Omur Aybar (Turkey) Mr Fabio Pellegrini (Italy), Mr Jean-Claude Frécon (France), Mr Joseph Borg (Malta), Ms Brith Fäldt (Sweden), Mr Christopher Newbury (United Kingdom), Mr Bernard Suaud (France) and Mr Mohammmad Nazir (United Kingdom). They were accompanied by Ms Antonella Cagnolati (Deputy Chief Executive of the Congress), Ms Delphine Weisshaupt and Mr Oscar Alarcón, members of the Congress secretariat. (See appendix II)
The Congress wishes to express its thanks in particular to Mr Mats Lindberg, Special Representative of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, and to Ms Ayten Shirinova, Director of the Council of Europe Information Office in Azerbaijan, and their staff for their assistance, help and logistical support.
The Council of Europe's delegation took part in a series of preparatory meetings organised prior to the elections by the Special Representative of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe Office in Azerbaijan. On those occasions, it should be noted that an overview of the political situation of the country, the electoral procedures and media situation were provided, and a meeting with a Human Rights NGO was also organised (See programme in appendix I).
II. BACKGROUND- GENERAL INFORMATION ABOUT AZERBAIJAN
The Republic of Azerbaijan achieved sovereignty with its declaration of independence on 18 October 1991. It applied to join the Council of Europe on 13 July 1996. In Resolution (96) 32 of 11 September 1996 the Committee of Ministers invited the Parliamentary Assembly to give an opinion on this request in accordance with Statutory Resolution 51 (30A).
The Parliament of the Republic of Azerbaijan obtained Special Guest status with the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on 28 June 1996. This application was considered in the light of the adoption of Recommendation 1247 (1994) on the enlargement of the Council of Europe, in which the Assembly stated that “in view of their cultural links with Europe, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia would have the possibility of applying for membership provided they clearly indicate their will to be considered as part of Europe”.
Assembly delegations observed the general election in November 1995 and the presidential election in October 1998. A delegation from the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe (Congress) observed the first municipal elections in December 1999 and in March 2000. Serious shortcomings in some elections were noted.
Azerbaijan was admitted to the Council of Europe on 25 January 2001 and, like all new members, was subject to a general monitoring procedure pursuant to Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly Opinion 222 (2000).
These 2004 elections were the first local elections held in Azerbaijan since the country joined the Council of Europe in 2001, at which time it assumed additional, enforceable legal obligations to uphold civil and political rights.
The Azeri authorities signed the European Charter of Local Self-Government on 21 December 2001 and ratified it on 15 April 2002. The Charter had therefore officially come into force on 1 August 2002 under the terms of the ratifying legislation passed by the Milli Mejlis, the Azerbaijani parliament. Under a declaration of 15 April, the Republic of Azerbaijan accepted most of the Charter's articles as binding. It also declared its inability to guarantee the application of the Charter provisions “in the territories occupied by the Republic of Armenia” until such time as they were liberated.
Azerbaijan is a republic of 86 600 km2 with a population of 8.1 million of average density (94 inhabitants per km2), a large proportion of whom still live in rural areas (almost 50%). Agriculture accounts for 25% of GDP. It is a small country surrounded by large neighbours: Russia, Iran and Turkey. Its coastline is formed by a landlocked sea: the Caspian.
The notion of a modern Azerbaijani State has its origins in the Caucasian Kingdom of Albania, which dated from before Christ. The States that existed within the territory of modern-day Azerbaijan were headed by monarchs with absolute power and authority. Owing to its strategic position, the country was a focal point of political tension during the rise of the Russian, Iranian and Ottoman empires, which resulted in the disintegration of Azerbaijan and its division between those different powers at the beginning of the 19th century. From then onwards, the territory of what is Azerbaijan today became an integral part of the Russian Empire and then the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics following a brief period of independence between May 1918 and April 1920.
Azerbaijan is also a prisoner of the complex and not always entirely disinterested drawing of political boundaries in the southern Caucasus. For instance, part of its territory, the Republic of Nakhichevan, is separated from the rest of the country by a strip of territory belonging to the neighbouring Republic of Armenia and is therefore very largely dependent on its other neighbour, Iran, for supplies. For many years, Azerbaijan was the silent spectator to a kind of armed peace between the USSR and Iran, which shared influence over the Caspian Sea.
The discovery of major oil reserves in the 19th century gave Azerbaijan great economic importance, which explains the presence of very many foreign firms, in particular from the United States, Russia and Great Britain and, to a lesser extent, several other European countries such as Italy, France, Spain and Norway, as well as Asian countries such as Turkey, Iran, Japan, Turkmenistan and Malaysia.
In some respects, the renewed independence of the countries in the Caucasus region has greatly complicated the situation there, it being an unstable region marked by ethnic and religious conflicts, not to mention simple conflicts of interest among and in the various republics - on the boundaries of Russia (Chechnya), within neighbouring Georgia and inside the territory of Azerbaijan itself (presence of an Armenian minority in Nagorno-Karabakh).
Against this background, independence went hand-in-hand with conflict with the neighbouring Republic of Armenia. The situation of conflict persists today, with both Nagorno-Karabakh and the neighbouring areas having been occupied by the Armenian army since 1993. A total of 20% of Azerbaijan's territory is under occupation at present. This has resulted in large numbers of displaced persons living in conditions of extreme hardship. The independence of the Central Asian republics has also complicated matters with regard to the apportionment of the resources in the Caspian Sea, to the extent that no real international agreement regarding the status of its seabed has yet been reached.
Azerbaijan and its capital, Baku, in particular, stand on the ancient silk route. The country is therefore an integral part of the European Union's Trace programme, which aims to strengthen the political and economic independence of the countries of the Caucasus and Central Asia. The country is at the very heart of the strategies for transporting crude oil and gas supplies not only from its own production but also from other countries bordering on the Caspian Sea that actually have larger reserves (Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan), not forgetting those of Uzbekistan, which are roughly comparable.
The economic context
Following a downturn linked to the conflict with Armenia and the political and economic difficulties of independence, GDP has grown by an average of approximately 9% a year since 1997. The national budget is more or less balanced, while the country's debt level is entirely reasonable (of the order of a quarter of GDP). Increases in industrial output based on the oil sector look set to stand at a rate of approximately 40% per annum after 2005. Political stability is therefore crucial for Azerbaijan, as its growth depends very largely on foreign investment, which already accounts for three-quarters of capital expenditure. It is also a requirement to prevent the growing dependence on the hydrocarbons sector (92% of exports in 2002) becoming a weakness.
This foreign-investment-led economic expansion is having the effect of speeding up the privatisation of the economy. It should provide leverage for the necessary reforms of the former state apparatus and planned economy. The economic context would therefore appear to be favourable to a form of institutional organisation in which there is a wider range of types of authority, in particular at local level.
The potentially favourable economic background is partly reflected in the social situation, as the UN human development index (HDI) now places Azerbaijan on the same level as neighbouring Turkey. However, this optimistic view should not hide the fact that average per capita income is still very low and, above all, that almost 49% of the population live in poverty, with 17% reported to be below the breadline (approximately €15 a month).
This situation led President Aliyev to launch a Poverty Reduction and Economic Development Programme (PRSP) on 25 October 2002. Financed largely from the Oil Fund, this unprecedented programme, of which no real equivalent exists in the countries in the region except in Russia, focuses on macroeconomic stability, good governance and international integration. In macroeconomic terms, on the basis of tighter budgetary discipline, it involves directing oil revenues towards social measures and participation by the country in the funding of major transport investments for export purposes.
The social measures are aimed at reducing poverty through a whole set of practical economic development initiatives. They also include a major plan for the return of displaced persons to regions previously occupied by Armenia that have been taken back by Azerbaijan. The measures concerning public administration focus on the distinction between administrative and regulatory tasks, the continuation of privatisation and steps to support SMEs, especially in disadvantaged regions (in particular, Nakhichevan). Specific measures could involve economic development based on the processing of agricultural produce. Action in strategic sectors such as energy and water supplies will give priority to support for the private sector.
The future of local government may be affected by these changes: privatisation requires updating of property registry data and could lead to major changes in the way local public services are managed (water supply, district heating and refuse collection). In general terms, the positive economic trends and the changes they are bringing about in state bodies are bound to influence the institutional and political situation.
Azerbaijan has a young experience of democracy at local level. The development of a system of local government was, however, included from a very early stage in the methods chosen for building a democratic state in Azerbaijan. In particular, it was included in the Constitutional Act of State Independence of 18 October 1991. The desire to establish local government was also reflected very clearly in the Constitution of 5 November 1995 (adopted by referendum), which includes a specific chapter on the subject. Moreover, the transitional provisions provided for the adoption of appropriate legislation and the holding of local elections within two years following the official abolition of the Soviet system on 27 November 1995. The parliamentary committee on local government was set up at the same time.
Having originally been scheduled for 1997, municipal elections were not actually held until 12 December 1999 and the beginning of 20001. Until then, the authorities were appointed by the President of the Republic to exercise central government powers as decentralised bodies. In the most favourable cases, the new municipalities were not able to begin operating officially until 1 January 2000, or just about five years ago.
Territorial Division of the Country
In December 1999, the first local elections took place for mandates in 2667 municipal assemblies. The municipalities approve local taxes, adopt and implement local programmes regarding local social, economic and ecological matters. Municipalities may adopt Municipal Acts. These acts are legally binding for the citizens living and legal persons located in the relevant territory.
Administratively, the Republic of Azerbaijan is divided into 86 administrative entities, including the Autonomous Republic of Nakhchivan and the occupied territories. The President appoints and dismisses Governors, who head the Government of the rayon. According to the Constitution, the Governor implements the executive power in the respective area. He also appoints and dismisses representatives of the local executive authorities. Upon decree, the president determines the authorities of the local executive powers in detail.
Each municipality is administered by a council, whose membership varies according to the size of the population, from five members in municipalities with populations of under 500 inhabitants to 19 members in municipalities with populations of between 100 000 and 300 000. There are special arrangements for the city of Baku, which is divided into 11 districts (decentralised entities) of varying size and population, and 48 municipalities ("devolved entities").
III. LEGAL BASIS AND CONDUCT OF ELECTION PROCESS
3.1 LEGAL BASIS
The Constitution of Azerbaijan was put into effect in 1995. The referendum took place on the same day as the first legislative elections since the declaration of independence in 1991. The Constitution introduced a strong presidential regime and established the foundations of a unitary, secular, democratic state based on the respect for the rule of law and the separation of powers. However, there are doubts as to what extent, in practice, the principle of the separation of powers will be respected as a constant source of inspiration for all institutions concerned
2. In other words, it is assumed that the influence of the centralised features of the former regime upon the present one will persist for some time to come.
The National Assembly (Milli Majlis) consists of 125 deputies. The majority party, namely the New Azerbaijan Party, is under the leadership of the present President of the Republic.
The power of the President to decide on holding referenda and parliamentary elections enhances his position in case of conflict between himself and the Parliament. As such he occupies a dominant position within the State both in law and in practice.
This being so, it should be highlighted that local authorities were appointed by the President of the Republic, representing the system of the central executive power at local level (“deconcentrated powers”). This is also true for the Governor of Baku who heads the "deconcentrated" City Administration, with 11 District Administrations being subordinated to it. The Governor will remain in office after municipal bodies are elected in all districts. The CLRAE Delegation was concerned about the future relationship between the local elected authorities and the locally acting central executive authorities. It stressed the importance to clarify these relationships in the future with a view to making a total distinction between responsibilities and functions of the bodies concerned.
Azerbaijan possesses a Criminal Code, adopted in 2000 (i.e., prior to CoE accession), which apparently has elements dating back to the Soviet Criminal code of the 60s. Under this legislation, street disturbances are treated as organized crime. Therefore, they are dealt with not by police crowd control units, but by the Ministry of Interior Department for Combating of Organized Crime. The same department is tasked with investigation of street disturbance-related offences and the cases are taken up in special Courts for serious crime.
It is then obvious that provisions like these in the Criminal Code effectively transform it into a “factory producing political prisoners”. This being so, the Congress thinks that a reform of this Criminal Code is a matter of urgency. At this stage, the Congress delegation requests to participate in the revision of the Criminal Code of Azerbaijan.
The new unified Election Code was adopted on 27 May 2003. Through 246 articles, it governs the conduct of referenda and presidential, parliamentary and municipal elections in one substantial and comprehensive document.
Beginning in 2002, the authorities spent significant time and effort to unify the electoral framework, working with the Council of Europe's Venice Commission and the OSCE/ODIHR.
During this process, the authorities demonstrated willingness to improve the electoral legislation, considering and implementing many recommendations suggested by the two organizations. In their final assessment, the Venice Commission and the OSCE/ODIHR concluded that the Code provides a comprehensive framework for the conduct of elections and referenda that meets international standards and best practices in most respects, and that the key to the law's success would lie in its impartial, neutral and consistent application.
With a few discussion points pending with the Venice Commission, the Election Code can be considered a legal basis for free and fair elections. The challenge for the Azerbaijan authorities is to put these formal procedures into practice. Governmental officials, including the President, admit that the transformation of the rules into reality without fraud is not fully fulfilled.
An Election Day Guide was distributed to all Congress delegation members, compiled on the basis of the Election Code of the Republic of Azerbaijan
3.2. ELECTION ADMINISTRATION
The Municipal elections in the 2735 municipalities are administered by a three-tier election administration:
a) The Central Election Commission (CEC)
b) 124 Constituency Election Commission (ConECs)
c) 5200 Precinct Election Commissions (PECs).
The CEC, ConECs and PECs function on a permanent basis and are appointed for a 5-year term. The CEC is appointed by the Parliament (Milli Majlis). ConECs are appointed by the CEC, and the PECs by the relevant ConECs. According to the law on Approval and Entry into Force of the Election Code, for a transitional period until after the next elections to the Milli Majlis in 2005, the composition of all electoral commissions is based on the results of the parliamentary elections in 2000.
A) Central Election Commission
The CEC has 15 members appointed by the Parliament. The “majority” party YAP has 6 members. The other three groups have 3 members each.
The main functions of the CEC are.
· To ensure the lawful conduct of the elections and the uniform implementation of legal provisions
· To appoint and co-ordinate the work of the ConECs
· To issue instructions and regulations and supervise the work of all commissions
· To register and issue certificates to the persons nominated as candidates and their authorised representatives and agents
· To register international observers and domestic observers entitled to conduct nation-wide observation
· To see that candidates have equal opportunities to campaign through the mass media and for other pre-election activities
· To establish the format of ballots and of other election documents and to approve the format of ballot boxes and seals of electoral commissions
· To consider applications and complaints on decisions and actions of ConEcs
· To determine and officially publish the results of the elections
B) Constituency Election Commissions
ConECs are appointed by the CEC. They have 9 regular members with “decisive voting rights”. They are formed according to the same principles as the CEC. Three seats are reserved for the majority party in Parliament (YAP). Each of the three other groups has two representatives. There are 124 ConECs on for each constituency.
The main functions of a ConEC are:
· To approve the precincts, identifying the precinct centre (polling stations)
· To appoint and co-ordinate the work of the PECs on its territory
· To register domestic observers entitled to conduct observations within its territory
· To consider applications and complaints received about the decisions and actions of PECs, to review the decisions of PECs for conformity with the Election Code, and if necessary annual PEC decisions
· To determine the results of the election within the constituency and submit them to the CEC
· To make public the preliminary results of the election by precincts, based on the data from PEC protocols
C) Precinct Election Commissions
PECs on the territory of a constituency are appointed by the respective ConEC and have 6 members with “decisive voting rights”. The majority party in Parliament (YAP) is represented by 3 members with “decisive voting rights”. The other three groups- “minority”, “non-partisan” and “extra-parliamentary”- have 1 member each
The main functions of a PEC are:
· To specify and approve the voters list
· To inform the public about the date and place of voting, and to notify each voter on the voters list
· To issue de-registration cards for those wishing to vote in a precinct other than that in which they are registered (but only within the same municipality)
3.3 POLITICAL SITUATION IN AZERBAIJAN
The political parties in Azerbaijan can be classified in 4 major groups:
1. Majority. The ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party (YAP) headed by the Mr Ahmadov, which won a majority of the 25 seats allocated proportionally in the 2000 elections. In general the political figures of this group are famous figures of the establishment (Mr. Murtuz Aleskerov3, Mr. Ali Insanov4, Mr. Rafael Allahverdiyev5, Mr. Ali Nagiev6 and it also includes relatives and friends of the President's family including Ilham Aliyev7, Jalala Alyev8.
2. Minority: Popular Front (APFP), Civil Solidarity (CSP) and Communist Party (CP), which also won some of the 25 seats allocated proportionally in the 2000 election.
3. Non-partisan: parliamentarians either elected by majority vote in single-mandate constituencies from parties that won no “proportional” seats, or elected independently
4. Extra-parliamentary parties: Democratic Party (ADP), Musavat, National Independence Party (ANIP), Liberal Party (LP), which won no seats but collected more than 1% of the votes cast in the proportional ballot of the 2000 election.
Major political parties in Azerbaijan
1. Yeni Azerbaijan Party (YAP). Chairman: Mr Ali Ahmadov
1. Musavat Party. Chairman: Mr Isa Gambar
2. Azerbaijan National Independence Party (ANIP) Chairman. Mr Etibar Mammadov.
3. Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan (PFPA). The reformist wing headed by Mr Ali Karimli, the classical wing by Mr Mirmahmud Fattayev
4. Azerbaijan Democratic Party (ADP). Chairman. Mr Rasul Guliyev (immigrated to US). Secretary General. Mr Sardar Jalaloglu.
5. Adalat Party. Chairman. Mr Ilyas Ismailov.
6. Azerbaijan Liberal Party (ALP). Chairperson. Ms Lala Shovket Hajiyeva
7. Communist Party of Azerbaijan. Chairman: Mr Ramiz Ahmadov
8. Social-Democratic Party of Azerbaijan (ASDP). Co-chairmen. Mr Azrdusht Alizade and Mr Araz Alizade.
9. Azerbaijan Civic Solidarity Party (ACSP). Chairman. Mr Sabir Rustamkhanli
10. Ana Vatan Party. Chairman: Mr Fazail Agamali
11. Yurddash Party. Chairman: Mr. Mais Safarli
12. Civil Unity Party. Chairman: Mr Ayaz Mutallibov (immigrated to Russia). Secretary General: Mr Sabir Gajiyev.
13. Azerbaijan Liberal Democratic Party (ALDP). Chairman: Mr Fuad Aliyev.
3.4 ENTITLEMENT TO VOTE AND ELECTORAL REGISTERS
Every Azerbaijani citizen aged 18 or over on Election Day, who has legal capacity, is entitled to vote in elections.
The permanent voters list for a precinct shall be approved by the Precinct Election Commission in conformity with the format defined by the Central Election Commission until 30th of May of each year and be specified at least 35 days prior to the Election Day9.
The document verifying inclusion of a voter in the voters list is the Voter's Card. This card describes the voter's name, surname, patronymic, date of birth, place of residence, name of the election constituency he/she is registered in and number and address of the election precinct. Upon request, the relevant election commission shall inform any citizen about his/her inclusion in or exclusion from the voters lists10.
Registration of candidates:
A Candidate can be nominated through self-nomination, or by voters with active suffrage, provided that a notification about the matter is sent to the relevant election commission, on territory of which the signatures necessary for supporting the Candidate are collected and the Candidate is intended to be registered.
In addition, candidates can be nominated by Political Parties and Blocks of Political Parties. However, all candidates shall have equal rights and duties11.
At the time when the registration was expired, there were 39129 candidates competing for 21647 seats in 2735 municipalities, at 5210 polling stations. The candidate breakdown looked as follows:
The Yeni Azerbaijan Party (YAP)
Popular Front Party (PFP)
Azerbaijan Independence Party (ANIP)
Party of Social Prosperity
Democratic Block of Azerbaijan
Azerbaijan Democratic Party (ADP)
CEC informed the Congress delegation that only 1200 candidates had been rejected. Originally 1500 candidates were rejected by DEC´s but 300 were rehabilitated by CEC.
IV. THE ELECTIONS-THE OBSERVATION MISSION
4.1 THE ELECTION CAMPAIGN
The election campaign took place in an air of secrecy. The Congress delegation arrived on Sunday 12th December 2004, the day of the anniversary of the death of the former President of Azerbaijan12. During the days previous to the Election Day, the TV coverage was entirely - night and day - devoted to that event with some recorded interviews with the former president, images of the current president's family, etc.
In addition, political parties of the opposition and some candidates reported to the Congress delegation impediments to their campaigns on TV and in newspapers. According to all the opposition parties, no rallies were held on television, despite the positive affirmation about this issue by the ruling party and even the President.
Although campaign posters were few, the majority of those belonged to the ruling party (Yeni Azerbaijan Party –YAP-). No opposition posters were to be seen. One fact that surprised the Congress delegation was that the image of Heydar Aliyev and Ilham Aliyev received privileged placement and were by far the most visible and widespread in the whole city of Baku as well as in most of public buildings as a “symbol of the unity of the country”. At this point, the campaign was considered as “unilateral” and not as an electoral campaign in the classical term. The Congress delegation was informed that many opposition posters were systematically vandalized early in the campaign.
Local executive authorities routinely denied permission to opposition parties to congregate in central outdoor locations. The restrictions limited the ability of opposition candidates to convey their messages effectively and undercut public participation in the campaign.
Voter interest in the campaign appeared limited, especially amongst young people.
Overall, the authorities failed to create equal conditions for all candidates. Therefore, the overall tone of the campaign tended to be negative and even inexistent.
The TV and Media
Television is by far the most important source of news in Azerbaijan. State TV reaches a nationwide audience and is among the most influential of media outlets. It has not yet been transformed into an independent public broadcasting service. There are a few other television stations which reach a national audience as well as a number of local or regional stations.
The four State-owned newspapers reflect only the position of the government. The only alternative sources of political news are a limited number of independent and opposition party newspapers. Due to low circulation, however, they are often unavailable for most sections of the public.
Media coverage of the campaign was characterized by an overwhelming tendency of State-owned and government-oriented media to exhibit an overt bias in favour of the current president Ilham Aliev and former president Heydar Aliyev
The media as whole did not provide sufficient information on candidates and political platforms, due to the fact that most of the candidates from opposition parties had no air time on TV. The national television channels did not transmit any election information. This being so, voters could not make an informed choice.
The Congress delegation was informed that the numerous problems concerning the media reported in the year leading up to the presidential election (15 October 2003) were not appropriately dealt with. The media situation was further exacerbated by systematic harassment and intimidation of journalists, including verbal attacks, detentions, life-threatening phone calls and editorial interference akin to censorship. For these elections some media organizations denounced pressure by some political parties and several candidates complained of not having real freedom of expression. Freedom of expression is by no means guaranteed in practice and journalists are increasingly engaging in self –censorship13.
Equally alarming is the situation of the printed Mass media.
As far as electronic media is concerned, those media outside Azerbaijan presented the campaign in an uninteresting manner, due to the power of the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party (YAP) and the inability of municipal authorities to do anything in favour of the population (i.e. no change).
In general, the media coverage of the election demonstrated that Azerbaijan lacks a strong and independent media able to provide sufficient, balanced information to enable the electorate to make a well-informed choice.
The freedom of media is still a cause of serious concern.
4.2 PREPARATORY MEETINGS REGARDING THE OBSERVATION
At the Polish Embassy the Congress delegation first met representatives of the opposition parties: Popular Front; Musavat; Azerbaijan National Independence Party (ANIP); Azerbaijan Democratic Party (ADP).
During this meeting, the problem of the registration of candidates was raised up. The Congress was informed that candidates belonging to the current ruling party had more facilities (favourable treatment) when applying to CEC. A more difficult situation applied for those candidates not belonging to the ruling party and located in rural areas.
Opposition candidates considered these local elections as fraudulent and continuously complained about lack of access to media and non-authorisation to organise mass meetings. Therefore, some opposition parties14 decided not to participate in this “democratic” exercise days before the Election Day. They argued that they were not boycotting the local elections but that they were simply not participating in them. This decision to not take part was reaffirmed after Election Day, and the country's major opposition party groups stated that the low turnout should be interpreted as popular support for the opposition parties.
The opposition party representatives brought the following facts to the Congress delegation's attention:
- Duration of the election campaign did not meet statutory requirements
- Equal treatment of the parties with regard to information had not been complied with.
- There was only presidential propaganda on TV
- The opposition parties welcomed the presence of foreign observers but the absence of local observers.
- Doubts were cast on the preparation of the electoral registers, which according to the opposition party representatives included people who were dead and people living abroad, leaving the door open to all sorts of tampering
- The opposition parties feared there had been serious shortcomings in the information and instructions given to voters, for example concerning the location of polling stations and general voting know-how.
- They claimed to have endured difficulties registering candidates15.
The Congress takes note that opposition parties are faced with a number of difficulties. However, being convinced that local elections contribute to the development of democracy, the Congress believes that the boycott of the elections is not a democratic solution leading to a resolution of the problem in the future.
Some opposition parties16 decided not to participate in the elections and explained their motives to the Congress delegation. Only ANIP decided to participate in these elections. Although the Congress delegation understands their motives for not participating, the Congress deplores this attitude as it is convinced that local elections contribute to the development of democracy as a whole.
The representatives of the majority parties brought the following matters to the Congress delegation's attention:
- the municipal elections were of exceptional importance to them as they were the second municipal elections in Azerbaijan and the first since Azerbaijan became a CoE member State and would constitute a test of ruling.
Mr. Ilham Aliyev, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan received in the Office of the President both the Congress delegation17 as well as the PACE delegation18 in the framework of its annual monitoring report to the country. The Council of Europe delegation, chaired by Mr Wim Van Gelder, Head of the Congress delegation, had an exchange of views on mutual concerns: local self-government, local elections, participation of NGOs as observer in elections, media issues, Association of local authorities, Regional Co-operation.
During this meeting the Congress highlighted the hope that in the near future Azerbaijan would define complete and entire competencies for municipalities and create a nation-wide association of local authorities. In addition, the Congress reiterated its engagement to co-operate with the Azeri authorities on such improvements.
Another meeting held by the Congress delegation called the representatives of some NGOs (NGO Congress, Helsinki Citizen Assembly, the Election Monitoring Centre19) together.
NGOs informed us that people are very passive to these local elections because of the lack of real Authorities in Municipal elections and the boycott of Political parties of these elections.
NGOs candidates brought the following facts to the Congress delegation's attention:
1. Problems in Voter Lists (people still not registered)
2. Confusion whether Election Day is a working day or a Public holiday
3. Campaign founded in State budget or local budget
4. Access of NGO to Media
5. Difficulty of opposition candidates to be registered and apply to CEC.
The representatives of NGO expressed a general reservation as to the fact that only the Latin alphabet was used in the ballot papers. The Congress was also concerned about this situation and asked whether the entire population would be able to take part in the vote. In reply, the delegation was told that the change of alphabet was effected 10 years ago and since the ballot of the Presidential election of 2003 was in the Latin alphabet, it was obvious that use of the Latin alphabet was generally understood by the population.
The Congress was informed that domestic NGOs enjoying more than 30% of foreign funding were prohibited from monitoring the elections. After the Election Day the Congress was informed that this ban had been temporarily lifted before the Election Day for these elections only , although this last-minute decision was not generally known.
The Congress delegation also met Ms Leyla Yunus, Director of Institute of Peace and Democracy (local NGO) and some independent candidates20 for municipalities in Digyakh village.
The Congress delegation was then informed of some irregularities of the electoral process in Baku settlements and specifically of the situation of constant pressure made on those independent candidates by the executive power while demanding to recall their candidacies.
4. 3 OBSERVATION OF THE ELECTION
The 6 Congress observer teams were deployed in the whole country21 and were able to observe more than 80 polling stations
Election Day was characterized by a unprecedented calm and order compared with Presidential election in 2003, except for considerable over-crowding in many precincts22. Some allegations of significant irregularities were reported. Polling stations, with few exceptions, opened on time23 and polling station officials reported to work. Nevertheless, Congress observers insisted on the need for improvements in the procedures, especially with regard to the preparation of the voter lists. The largest problem encountered was voters coming to polling stations without their names being on the voter registers24. The Congress delegation would like to draw the attention to this fact, because some of those voters were registered for the presidential elections in 2003 but not for these local elections.
Another problem was related to the complexity of the ballot paper: owing to the presence of many independent candidates and the number of people registered in a municipality, there was much confusion on how many candidates the voters should elect on the ballot paper.
Cases of group voting25 as well as some campaign material and propaganda within 50 meters of polling stations26 were reported by Congress observers. It should be noted that as far as group voting is concerned, people claimed the necessity of help from other people, due to the change of alphabet (from Cyrillic to the Latin alphabet) 10 years ago. Some teams stressed the difficult access to polling stations for the people with reduced mobility in frequent cases27. Equally, more thought should be given to polling arrangements for citizens living in remote rural areas, where some people had difficulty finding polling stations.
The organisation of mobile voting was rated as weak. There was no clear information about this possibility and some polling stations did not organise any mobile voting because the requests had to be made prior to the elections, which many voters did not know. In addition, some misuse of the mobile voting box was also noted. The Congress considers that this situation was an unintentional misuse and not an abuse, caused by the lack of training of some appointed officials.
The Congress delegation welcomed the compliance/effort with measures to safeguard the integrity of the polling process: voters presented photo IDs, signed the voter register and could mark their ballots in secret.
A number of procedural shortcomings were noted:
· The accuracy of the Voter lists was a serious concern.
· Frequently inattention to procedural details was observed.
· Mismatch between signatures registered on the voting list and votes found in the ballot box28
· multiple voting29
· Family voting30, multiple similar signatures on the Voter lists.
· In some polling stations, certain negligence in duly following the required legal procedures was noticed by the Congress delegation31
At one of the five polling stations visited32 the high number of ballots visible in the ballot boxes did not seem to match the number of signatures in the voter list. The number of signatures and the number of corners which had been torn off the ballot papers as a control mechanism, when the ballots papers were handed out to voters, were counted. The number of signatures was 250 whereas the number of corners was 592. That is, more than half of the ballots in the ballot boxes had not been cast by voters. Similar mismatches between the number of signatures and corners were established by Congress observers at several polling stations in the city of Gandja33.
The conduct of some Precinct Election Commissions (PEC) in accordance with the normal use in electoral processes was also a serious concern. The Congress delegation stated that some voting booths were not supervised because they were placed in a different room to where PEC members were located. 34
The absence of observers representing opposition parties or from domestic NGOs, along with the fact that the number of international observers was very low, clearly facilitated any fraudulent behaviour.
Regarding the vote count, the Congress delegation enjoyed good co-operation with the members of the pooling board. The counting process observed was rated as “clear”.
As far as the turnout is concerned, the Congress delegation states a very low voter participation. However, according to the CEC this participation was of 45%. The average of this turnout does not reflect what the Congress delegation observed during the Election Day.
· Gender issues
The participation of women in the political process is at a relatively low level.
The Congress delegation notes with satisfaction that the delegation met several female chairpersons in the polling stations all over the country. In many polling stations they held a majority. However, the number of female candidates is still notably few and cannot be considered as reaching the democratic standards that the Azerbaijan authorities strive for.
The development of local and regional self-government in Azerbaijan is taking place against the background of the commitment that Azerbaijan has made towards achieving economic development and democracy upon accession to the CoE.
The Azerbaijani authorities viewed these local elections in the country as a clear indication of their will to go on with the process of democratisation. However, there remain a number of grey areas that Azerbaijani authorities need to clear up, in particular with the renewed assistance of the Congress, which is determined to help this Council member country to achieve more progress for the general benefit of its entire population.
There seems to exist an apparent intention and a serious effort on the part of the National Parliament and the Executive organ of the State to rely on democratically constituted local authorities as instruments of democratisation, effective administration and the decentralisation of power.
Bearing this in mind, the scope, nature and limits of the control and supervision of the central executive power over municipalities must be clearly defined, in accordance with the European Charter of Local Authorities. More particularly, the final assessment of the compatibility of local acts with national interests has to be left to the judiciary if genuine local democratic institutions are to be constituted.
On the other hand, some progress can be observed in the “setting up and organisation” of these elections, compared with 1999 Elections. This is important in view of the fact that the Azerbaijani authorities have shown their willingness to take into account the conclusions of the Congress observers from 1999 Elections.
However, some needs must to be done in terms of education and training of both elected and appointed officials. In this context, the Congress delegation recommends that a special education and training programme should be elaborated for them that could be run with the assistance of ENTO.
One cannot deny that the holding of local elections is certainly a very important first step to institute local self-government as an essential element of a democratic society. However there are other conditions to be met. Beyond the legal guarantees for their existence and operation, practical implementation of certain basic political rights and freedoms, such as the freedom of expression and association, are vitally important.
With the aim of strengthening local self governments-units so that they can play an active role in a democratic society, foster good governance and deliver appropriate and good quality services to their citizens, the Congress calls for the creation of a nation-wide association of local authorities. This Association shall defend the interests of all Azeri local authorities at national level by requesting the competencies resulting from the European Charter of Local Self-Government but could also help to develop a culture of partnership between the local and central authorities between local authorities of other countries, especially border regions. This National Association shall notably play an active role by being associated to the legislative processes concerning local self-government and ensuring contacts at international level. Besides, it shall more specifically contribute to the composition of the Azeri Delegation to the Congress, in keeping with Article 3 of the Congress' Charter. More particularly, a strong Local Self-Government Association can assist local authorities in all areas and contribute to the development of societies that are sustainable, inclusive and participative.
Further to the elections, the delegation was highly satisfied with the calm and order of the Election Day compared with Presidential election in 2003, except for considerable over-crowding in many precincts. This fact should be mentioned because last presidential elections caused some tensions in civil society.
The Congress wishes to express willingness to assist the authorities and the civil society of Azerbaijan in addressing the remaining challenges and to further the cause of integration in the wider European community. Bearing this in mind, the observation delegation thinks that the Congess should join the PACE observation delegation for the parliamentary elections in 2005.
The Congress is convinced that local elections are in fact an excellent means of learning democracy, and every effort should be made to improve the standards of local democracy.
The Congress therefore recommends the following measures, in order to improve future electoral processes in Azerbaijan:
- Polling stations should be selected to ensure they are of a suitable size and offer unimpeded access to elderly and disabled voters. There are still too many polling stations of unacceptable size in consideration of the number of voters;
- Improve the training of Polling Board members with a view to alleviating some procedural irregularities and ensuring the proper conduct of all voting and vote count procedures prescribed by law;
- To ensure that all political parties enjoy democratic conditions (fair circumstances);
- To draw up a new civil register so that voters can be properly registered, if possible in time for the forthcoming municipal elections, and at the latest in time for the parliamentary elections in 2005;
- To prevent “group voting” and family voting. This behaviour stems from cultural attitudes and practices that fail to recognize women's right to full and equal citizenship with men. This is facilitated by polling officials refusing to adhere fully to electoral laws. Considering that family voting is a practice which tends to deprive women, and sometimes young people, of their individual voting rights and as such amounts to a form of electoral fraud, the Congress, following its Recommendation 111 (2002) on women's individual voting rights: a democratic requirement, calls to give particular attention, therefore, to the prevention of family voting when training electoral commissions.
- to achieve gradually the objectives laid down by the European Charter of Local Self-Government, and, subsequently, the draft European Charter of Regional Self-Government;
Finally, the Congress offers its assistance in the revision of the Azerbaijan Penal Code.
* * *
During the realisation of this report the Central Election Commission (CEC) has made available the results of the municipal elections held in Azerbaijan on 17 December 2004 and has published a decision on the municipal elections declaring the elections overall valid.
Nonetheless, the results have been declared invalid in 135 municipalities due to various irregularities. In these municipalities there will be a rerun. The CEC also informed that the results from a number of polling stations were also declared invalid, but in such cases where those precincts only form part of larger municipalities, there will be no repeat election.
The date for the rerun has not yet been decided.
Congrès des Pouvoirs Locaux et Régionaux de l'Europe
Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe
Council of Europe/Conseil de l'Europe
F – 67075 Strasbourg Cedex
Tel : + 33 (0) 3 88 41 20 00
Fax: + 33 (0) 3 88 41 27 51/ + 33 (0) 3 88 41 37 47
Election Observation Mission, Republic of Azerbaijan
(13-18 December 2004)
Monday 13 December 2004
13.00 - 14.30 Meeting with Mr Mats Lindberg (Venue SAS Radisson)
Tuesday 14 December 2004 (Venue-Embassy of Poland)
08.30 – 09.30 Delegation meeting at SAS Hotel
10.00 – 11.30 Meeting with the Ambassadors of Poland and France
11.30 – 13.30 Meeting with NGOs
Mr. Ali Guliyev, NGO Congress,
Mrs. Arzu Abdullayeva, Helsinki Citizen Assembly
Mr. Elgun Tagiyev, Election Monitoring Centre
Mr. Hafiz Hasanov, Law and development Center (not confirmed)
Mr. Eldar Ismailov, For the sake of civil society
15.00 – 16.00 Meeting with opposition parties
Mr. Ali Kerimli, Popular Front
Mr. Isa Gambar, Musavat
Mr. Etibar Mammadov, ANIP
Mr. Akif Shahbazov, ADP
16.00 – 17.00 Meeting with media representatives
Mr. Aflatun Amashov, RUH Trade Union of Journalists
Mr. Arif Aliyev, Press Council
Mr. Elchin Shikhlinskiy, Zerkalo
Mr. Rauf Talishinskiy, Echo
17.00 – 18.30 Meeting with representatives of minorities
Mr. Ibrahim Burhanov, “Veten” Society of Mesheti Turks
Mr. Oktay Askerov, Head of “Talish Human Right Project” Mr. Alimardan Shukurov, Head of Talish Cultural Centre
Wednesday 15 December 2004
09.30 – 10.45 Meeting with Mr. Ali Ahmadov, Chaitman of YAP, (Venue-YAP)
11.00 – 12.30 Meeting with Mr. Mazahir Panahov, Chairman of Central Electoral Commission, (Venue CEC)
14.00 – 18.00 Briefing with OSCE/ODIHR and IFES
Thursday 16 December 2004
09.00 – 09.30 Council of Europe briefing (PACE + CONGRESS). (Venue SAS Radisson)
11.00 – 11.45 Meeting with Ambassador of Italy (Venue SAS Radisson)
11.45 – 12.00 Meeting with Interprets and Drivers (Venue SAS Radisson)
12.00 Deployment of Congress Teams to the Regions.
Familiarisation with area to observed
13.00 – 15.30 Meeting with:
* Mr Fuad M. Aleskerov, Director of the Department of Coordination of Law Enforcement Agencies,
* Mr Shanin M. Aliyev, Director of the Department of Legislation and Legal Expertise. (Venue Office of President of the Republic of Azerbaijan)
16.00 – 17.00 Meeting with H.E. Mr. Ilham Aliyev, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, (Venue Office of the President)
19.00 - 20.00 Meeting with the Director of Institute of Peace and Democracy.
Friday 17 December 2004
Saturday 18 December 2004
09:00 - 11:00 Ad Hoc Meeting (Congress Secretariat) (Venue SAS Radisson)
11.00 – 13.30 Meeting with the Ambassadors of Poland and France.
(Venue-Embassy of Poland)
13.30 – 14.45 Ad hoc meeting Congress delegation.
(Venue: Council of Europe Information Office)
14:00 – 15.00 Press conference (Venue: Council of Europe Information Office)
Sunday 19 December 2004
Departure of the Congress delegation
Ms Antonella Cagnolati
Ms Delphine Weisshaupt
Guba and Khachmaz (north)
Mr Joseph Borg
Masalli and Lenkaran (south)
Goychay and Minqechevir
Congrès des Pouvoirs Locaux et Régionaux de l'Europe
Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe
Council of Europe/Conseil de l'Europe
F – 67075 Strasbourg Cedex
Tel: +33 (0)3 88 41 20 00
Fax : +33 (0)3 88 41 27 51 / +33 (0) 3 88 41 37 47
Local elections in Azerbaijan: a test for local democracy
BAKU, 18.12.04 - A delegation of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe observed local elections held on 17 December 2004 in Azerbaijan, in response to an invitation from the Chairman of the Central Election Commission, Mr. Mazahir Panahov.
The Congress delegation met local NGO's, opposition parties, media and minorities representatives, the Chairman of the Central Election Commission as well as government officials, including H.E. Mr. Ilham Aliyev, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan.
“The holding of local elections is certainly a very important first step to institute local self-government as an essential element of a democratic society, as stated in the European Charter of Local Self-Government ratified by Azerbaijan in 15/4/2002. However, there are other conditions to be met”, said Mr. Wim Van Gelder (Netherlands), the Head of the delegation. “In some areas democratic principles should be further encouraged”.
The Congress visited around 80 polling stations. Although the general climate was calm, open and friendly, the delegation observed a number of serious irregularities, the nature of which could prejudice the electoral process.
· The accuracy of the Voter lists was a serious concern.
· Frequently inattention to procedural details was observed.
· Mismatch between signatures registered on the voting list and votes found in the ballot box, multiple voting
· Misuse of the mobile voting box
· Family voting, multiple similar signatures on the Voter lists.
The conditions of the pre-election period, such as the degree of equality of access to the media and level of campaigning, failed to ensure the environment essential for fully democratic elections.
Although Election Day was generally assessed as acceptable and some technical improvements were observed compared with election in 1999, there are still lessons to be learned for the future. The Congress will prepare and distribute a provisional report on the elections after the official results are published.
For further information, please contact:
· Ms Antonella Cagnolati, Deputy Chief Executive of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe (+33 663 47 87 28)
· Mr Oscar Alarcon, Congress Secretariat, Congress (+33 661 14 82 08)
1 The elections on 26 March 2000 were necessary because of the annulment of the results in 75 municipalities.
2 Report on the Conformity of the Legal Order of Azerbaijan with Council of Europe Standards by Bernhardt and Nowicki, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, 1997)
3 Speaker of the Parliament
4 Minister of Health, Minister of Press and Information
5 Former Mayor of Baku
6 Minister of Social Protection and Labour
7 The President of Azerbaijan
8 Uncle of the President
9 Art. 46.1 Electoral Code
10 Art. 46.2 Electoral Code
11 Art. 55 Electoral Code
12 President Heydar Aliyev
13 It should be noted that the chief editor of the newspaper with the largest readership is still in prison
14 Musavat, PFP and ADP
15 ADP claimed of their 2000 candidates only 37 passed the registration.
16 MUSAVAT, POPULAR FRONT, ADP.
17 Composed by Mr Wim Van Gelder (Head of the Delegation), Mr Jean-Claude Frécon, Ms Antonella Cagnolati (Deputy Chief Executive of the Congress) and Mr Oscar Alarcón (Member of Congress Secretariat)
18 Composed by Mr Andreas Gross, Mr Andres Herkel and Mr David Cupina (Member of PACE Secretariat)
19 TBC NAMES
20 Mr Agayev Mustafa, Mr Kashimov Djamladdin and Mr Djabrailov Yashar.
21 See Annex II
22 ConEC 41, PEC 15. ConEC 45 PEC 23, 24. ConEC 54, PEC 65. ConEC 125, PEC 29
23 At 08.00am
24 ConEC 45, PEC 23,24
25 ConEC 45, PEC 23,24.
26 ConEC 40, PEC 8, ConEC 39, 27. ConEC 125, PEC 29. ConEC 96, PEC 17.
27 ConEC 18, PEC 17. ConEC 15, PEC 25. ConEC 42, PEC 21.ConEC 45, PEC 17,18.ConEC 41, PEC 15
28 ConEC 45, PEC 24
29 ConEC 42, PEC 21, 22. ConEC 41, PEC 15. ConEC 125, PEC 29. ConEC 45, PEC17,18. ConEC 40,PEC 9 ConEC 73, PEC 9
30 ConEC 39, PEC 27.ConEC 40, PEC 6,8,9
31 ConEC 55, PEC 3.ConEC 45, PEC 23, 17, 18. ConEC 55, PEC 2,26. ConEC 52, PEC 9.
32 ConEC 20, PEC 7
33 ConEC 39, PEC 27. ConEC 40, PEC 19, ConEC 38, PEC 8,9,14. ConEC 45, PEC 24
34 ConEC 45, PEC 17,18.