26. Azerbaijan is a one party dominant state. The New Azerbaijan Party (YAP) is the ruling political party in Azerbaijan. It was formed in 1993 by Heydar Aliyev, who led it until his retirement and death in 2003. It is now led by his son, Ilham Aliyev. At the elections of 5 November 2000 and 7 January 2001, the party won 62.3 % of the popular vote and 75 out of 125 seats in Parliament. Its candidate Ilham Aliyev was reported by the government to have won 80 % of the popular vote in the 15 October 2003 presidential elections, which faced criticism of vote-rigging from groups such as Human Rights Watch. At the parliamentary elections of 6 November 2005 (which were monitored by OSCE/OHDIR observers and PACE), it won 56 out of 125 seats.
27. Opposition parties against the New Azerbaijan Party (YAP) are allowed, but are widely considered to have no real chance of gaining power. Opposition representatives met by the delegation (Azadliq and Musavat) reported on their daily activity difficulties (incidents, arrests, kidnappings); for instance the Popular Front Party (PFP) cannot seat in Parliament and its chairman explained to the delegation that he was refused the delivery of a foreign passport.
28. According to official figures 2,109 candidates ran as independent candidates. The New Azerbaijan Party announced that it would have 2,185 candidates. Following an initial decision to boycott the election, the Musavat Party decided to grant its members the right to run for elections as independent candidates. Other candidates ran under affiliation to small political parties. As a result, political pluralism cannot really be observed at local level.
29. Under the Election Code9 pre-election campaign shall start 60 days prior to the election day and finish 24 hours prior to Election Day. The delegation present in Baku two days before the election day saw absolutely no posters. To a question raised on that issue, it was told that all campaign material had to be removed 24 hours before election day, in accordance with the Election Code. The delegation was also informed that local campaign is mostly carried out through meetings and door-to-door initiatives.
30. On their side, opposition parties reported that they were not allocated any air time on national TV channels; there are few/no regional or local TV channels. Candidates in general have low resources for campaigning.
3.4. Election Day
31. There is a visible lower interest for local than national elections, and of course even lower for partial than full elections. The turnout observed by the delegation was relatively low. Raising this aspect in the discussion, the delegation was informed that the legislation does not provide any threshold for the election to be valid, and that in the central authorities’ view the turnout was satisfactory.
32. The management in polling stations reflected training improvements, thanks among others to a co-operation programme between CEC and IFES10 in the preparation phase. In general, polling stations’ staff had a good knowledge of the procedures and instructions were visible outside the polling stations. The Presidential Administration informed the delegation that all security forces and local executive authorities were instructed not to interfere in the election process. While welcoming the presence of authorised domestic observers in the polling stations, the Congress observers noted that most of them represented the ruling political party.
33. Among major irregularities, the Congress delegation observed:
- Many cases of mismatch between the number of signatures registered on the voting list and votes found in the ballot box (i.e. ballot stuffing), and multiple similar signatures on the voters lists. Precinct Election Commission staff should be more careful about this issue; although the electoral guide distributed by the Central Election Commission (CEC) to the Precinct Election Commissions’ (PEC) staff and to observers (in English for the Congress delegation members) does not recall the obligation for voters’ to sign on the register, the Electoral Code of Azerbaijan11, however, clearly states that identification documents should be checked, and each voter should sign the voters’ register on receipt of a ballot paper.
- Unsealed ballot boxes
- Over-zealous assistance within the polling booth and large crowds in front of polling stations, some of whom were observers, but also candidates and representatives local executive authorities, which can be seen as attempts of influence or intimidation
- Family voting, although family assistance in voting can sometimes be explained by the difficulties in reading the ballot papers (elderly people cannot read the Latin alphabet)
34. In addition, observation teams witnessed interferences during the vote count (use of telephones was not clear; doors were opened and closed several times, enabling unauthorised people to enter or give/receive information); the distinction between Precinct Election Commission members and observers was not always clear (they did not wear badges at all times). Team 3 also observed a complaint about the composition of a ConEC: a representative of the Democratic Reform Party was refused a seat for unclear reasons.
35. Access to polling stations was found difficult, sometimes even impossible for the elderly and people with disabilities. Team 5 observed mobile voting: it was conducted in conformity with the legislation.
36. Under the Election Code, voting Day shall not be considered a working day, but it was not clear on 6 October 2006, as it was not a general election. There is a general need for better information of the citizens.
37. According to the Central Electoral Commission, the average turnout in the whole country was of 33.9 %. Under the Election Code, the CEC examines procedures and documents, and makes a final decision within 20 days after the election. The final results have to be confirmed within the ten-day period after this process.
38. After investigation on appeals, the Central Election Commission decided on 25 October 2006 to consider invalid election results in 21 precincts out of 940 precincts in which elections were conducted. In consequence, election results were considered invalid in 3 municipalities out of 603 in which elections were conducted. The CEC also decided to dismiss one Constituency Election Commission (# 54: Davachi-Siyazan), in which voting results on Maliklar and Uzunboyad municipalities were considered invalid, and one Precinct Election Commission (#11: Azizbayov, under Con.EC # 13), in which voting results on Buzovna municipality were considered invalid.
39. The Chairman of the Central Election Commission stated that “the above-mentioned elections, in general met legal requirements and 1901 municipality members were elected on 600 municipalities. He noted that without considering some little law violations, we can regard election results satisfactory.” 12
40. The repeat, by, new and first local elections were held on 6 October 2006 in a quiet and rather indifferent atmosphere. Despite a clear intention and serious effort to organise elections in accordance with the Electoral Code, as instructed by the President of Azerbaijan in his “Executive order on improvement of electoral practice” (11 May 2005), the Congress observation mission stated that a number of irregularities were observed in the polls.
41. Improvements should still be made for Azerbaijan to fully meet its commitments regarding international and Council of Europe election principles and democratic standards. In this regard, the Congress invites the Azerbaijani authorities to take account of its recommendations based on the observation of the 6 October local elections and of relevant recommendations made by the Parliamentary Assembly, the Venice Commission and other international organisations.
42. The Congress delegation, however, was even more concerned by the weak electoral campaign and regretted that the main opposition parties’ refusal to participate in the election prevented any form of debate between political forces in local affairs. The Congress wishes to support more political commitment and pluralism, together with an evolution of democratic practices, and an increased role of women in political life. All these elements can guarantee real democratic elections.
43. On the other hand, the Congress is convinced that the relatively low turn-out is one of the consequences of the lack of information, interest, and trust, not only on the democratic process, but also in the functioning, role, and competences of local self-governments. Necessary concrete measures should be taken to raise awareness of Azerbaijani citizens and increase their participation in local public life.
44. Likewise, the Congress encourages training of local elected representatives and staff so as to enhance their professionalism and the level of trust and respect between central and local elected authorities, and information campaign for the citizens.
45. In order to strengthen local self governments-units so that they can play a real 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. The joint project between the Congress and the Norwegian Association of Local and Regional Authorities goes in that direction.
46. The Congress wishes to renew its readiness to support and assist the Azerbaijani authorities in their intention to develop and strengthen local and regional democracy, which should be based on genuine responsibilities and adequate resources, in conformity with the European Charter of Local Self-Government.
The recommendations of the Congress to the Azerbaijani authorities based on the observation of the partial repeat of local elections are presented in document REC XXX (2006).
Elections in Azerbaijan: some improvement, but much still to do to raise the level of trust and respect between central and local administration
Strasbourg, 09.10.2006 - At the invitation of the Azerbaijan authorities, a delegation of the Congress of local and regional authorities of the Council of Europe, observed the partial repeat of municipal elections held on 6th October 2006.
“We noted a general technical improvement in the organization of the elections process, in line with European standards, but unfortunately we also observed serious irregularities for example mismatch between signatures registered on the voting list and votes found in the ballot box, family voting, multiple similar signatures on the voters lists, over-zealous assistance within in the polling booth …. declared Ludmila Sfirloaga, head of the delegation. And - she added- although the election day was calm and voting took place inside polling centres in an orderly manner, there are other important commitments still to fulfill”
The local democracy in the Republic of Azerbaijan should be based more on real powers and resources for local authorities, in the full respect of the implementation of the European Charter of Local Self-Government signed and ratified in 2002, and based on clear political commitment.
“In fact the lack of any dynamic electoral campaign, the decision of the main opposition parties not to participate in the elections and the still relatively weak participation in the vote seems to demonstrate that meaningful local democracy is not yet one of the political priorities in the Republic of Azerbaijan” she declared.
As in 2004, the Congress delegation again reiterates the need to facilitate the full recognition of the powers and the responsibilities of the local authorities. The setting up of specific actions and programs for information and training of all involved people must be the field where the Government of the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Congress of the Council of Europe should come together.
With progressive and positive commitment by the Government and the Congress the quality of life for all the people will improve.
Composition of the delegation
Members of the Congress
Ø Mrs Ludmila Sfirloaga, Congress, Vice-President of the Congress, Councillor, Prahova County Council (Romania, SOC, R) – Head of delegation
Ø Ms Brith Fäldt, Councillor, Pitea, Member of the Congress (Sweden, SOC, L)
Ø Mr Mihkel Juhkami, Chair, Rakvere City Council, Member of the Congress
Ø Mr David Lloyd-Williams, Councilor, North-Yorkshire County, Member of the Congress (UK, ILDG, R)
Ø Mrs Véronique Moreira, Regional Councillor of Rhône Alpes, Member of the Congress (France, SOC, R)
Ø Mr Paolo Rondelli, Municipal Councillor of San Marino, Member of the Congress (San Marino, SOC, R)
Secretariat of the Congress
Ø Ms Antonella Cagnolati, Deputy Chief Executive of the Congress
Ø Ms Caroline Martin, Congress Secretariat
Ø Ms Gönül Kocak, Congress Secretariat
Mr Denis Bribosia, Special Representative of the Council of Europe Secretary General
Press contact: Dmitri Marchenkov
Head of the Congress Communication Unit
Tel: +33 (0)3 88 41 38 44
Observation of the repeat municipal elections in Azerbaijan
Hotel "PARK INN", 1 Azadlig Ave, Baku 1000, Azerbaijan
Wednesday 4 October
8:30 - 9:00 Delegation de-briefing & practical issues, venue COE office
09:00 – 10:00 Denis BRIBOSIA, Special Representative of the Secretary General in Azerbaijan, venue COE office
10:30 – 11:30 Mazahir PANAHOV, Chairman of the Central Electoral Commission
12:00 – 13:00 Ramiz MEHTIYEV, Head of the Presidential Administration
Zeynal NAGDALIYEV, Head of Department on coordination of territorial administration bodies
(composition- Ludmila Sfirloaga, Antonella Cagnolati, Caroline Martin, Denis Bribosia and interpreter Mehriban van de Griendt)
13:00 – 15:00 Lunch
15:00 – 15:45 Arif RAHIMZADEH, Head of the Parliamentary Commission on Local and Regional Policies
16:00 – 16:45 Mahmud MAMMADGULIYEV, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs
17:00 – 18:00 Vilayet ZAHIROV, Deputy Minister of Justice
18.00 - 19:00 NGOs:
"For the Sake of Civil Society", Mr Fikret Rzayev, Co-ordinator
"For free and fair elections", Arzu Abdullayeva, Co-ordinator
Election Monitoring Center, Anar Mammadli, Executive Director
Hayat NGO, Vusal Rajabli, President
Venue COE office
19:00 – 20.00 Delegation de-briefing
Venue: Park Inn Hotel
20:00-20:30 Meeting of teams with interpreters and drivers
Venue: Park Inn Hotel
Thursday 5 October
09:00 – 10:00 YAP party,
Ali Ahhmadov, Deputy Chairman, Executive Secretary
Venue COE office
10:00 – 11:00 Azadliq bloc:
Ali Kerimli, Chairman of the Popular Front Party
Lala Shovket, Leader of National Unity movement
Sardar Jalaloglu, Deputy Chairman of ADP
11:00 – 12:00 Musavat Party
Gulaga Aslanli, Head of Election Department
Afternoon deployment of teams observing in Masalli-Lankaran, Gusar-Guba, Zagatala-Shaki (departure time to be confirmed)
15:00 Meeting in Norwegian Embassy (team 1)
16:00 Meeting in UK Embassy (team 1)
17:00 Meeting with OSCE representatives (team 1)
Friday 6 October
Saturday 7 October
9:00- 11:00 de-briefing and preparation of press release
Venue: Council of Europe Office, 39-41 Boyuk Gala street
Icheri Sheher, Baku
15:00 Press Conference
Venue: Council of Europe Office, 39-41 Boyuk Gala street
Icheri Sheher, Baku
18:00 Dinner with the Deputy Minister of Justice
DEPLOYMENT AREAS on 6 October 2006