in Azerbaijan 2005
HOC COMMITTEE TO OBSERVE THE PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS IN AZERBAIJAN
Mr Leo Platvoet (Netherlands / UEL)
Following an invitation by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan
the Bureau of the
Assembly decided on 20 June 2005, to set up an ad hoc Committee to observe the
Parliamentary Elections in Azerbaijan to be held on 6 November 2005, and
on 5 September appointed Mr Leo Platvoet as the Chairperson
and rapporteur of this Ad Hoc Committee.
On 4 October 2004 a co-operation agreement was signed between the
Parliamentary Assembly and the European Commission for Democracy through Law
(“Venice Commission”). In conformity with article 15 of the agreement –
“When the Bureau of the Assembly decides to observe an election in a country
in which electoral legislation was previously examined by the Venice Commission,
one of the rapporteurs of the Venice Commission on this issue may be invited to
join the Assembly's election observation mission as legal adviser” -, the
Bureau of the Assembly invited an expert from the Venice Commission to join the
ad hoc Committee as advisor.
(composition of the ad hoc
The ad hoc Committee acted as part of the International Election
Observation Mission (IEOM) which also included the election observation missions
of the parliamentary assemblies of the OSCE and NATO, the European Parliament
and the election observation mission of the Organisation for Co-operation and
Security in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR).
The ad hoc Committee met in Baku from 4 to 7 November 2005 and held, inter
alia, meetings with representatives of the main parties participating in
these elections, the Chairman of the CEC, the Director of the Department
of Legislation and Legal Expertise of the Office of the President of Azerbaijan,
the Head of the
election observation mission of the OSCE/ODIHR and his staff, representatives of
the international community in Baku, as well as representatives of the civil
society and mass media.
On Election Day the ad hoc Committee was split into 25 teams which
observed the elections in and around Baku, Jabrayil, Gubadli, Absheron, Sabail,
Garadagh, Sumgait, Guba, Shamakhi, Shaki, Ganja, Kurdamir, Salyan, Lankaran and
In order to draw up an assessment of the electoral campaign, as well as
the political climate in the run-up to the elections, the Bureau sent a
pre-electoral mission to Azerbaijan from 11 to 13 October 2005. The
pre-electoral delegation, which was composed of one representative from each
Political Group in the Assembly, consisted of Mr Leo Platvoet (Netherlands, UEL),
Mr Andreas Gross (Switzerland, SOC), Mr
Andres Herkel (Estonia, EPP/CD), Ms Hanne Severinsen (Denmark, ALDE) and Mevlüt
Çavuşoğlu (Turkey, EDG). In Baku the pre-electoral delegation met
with, inter alia, representatives of
political parties participating in these elections, the President of Azerbaijan,
the Speaker of the Parliament, the Chairman of the CEC, the Minister of the
Interior, the Chairman of the Constitutional Court, the Deputy Head of the OSCE/ODIHR
Election Observation Mission, members of the international community in
Azerbaijan, as well as representatives of the mass media and civil society.
The IEOM unanimously concluded that the Parliamentary Elections in
Azerbaijan on 6 November 2005,
did not meet a number of Council of Europe and OSCE commitments and other
international standards for democratic Elections, despite improvements in some
respects during the pre-electoral period.
The ad hoc Committee wishes to thank the Parliament of Azerbaijan, the
OSCE/ODIHR election Observation Mission and the Special Representative of the
Secretary General of the Council of Europe in Azerbaijan for their co-operation
and support provided to the ad hoc Committee and its pre-election mission.
Political and legal context
The 2005 Parliamentary Elections in Azerbaijan
took place against the backdrop of marked economic growth as a result of the
increase in oil revenues and the opening of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline.
However this has not yet been followed by a similar development for a democratic
society in Azerbaijan. Previous elections have until now failed to meet Council
of Europe commitments and standards for democratic elections. The 2005
Parliamentary Elections in Azerbaijan were therefore a crucial opportunity for
the Azerbaijani authorities and political establishment to show that they have
the will and ability to organise democratic elections that are in line with
Council of Europe standards and commitments that Azerbaijan itself subscribed to
when joining the Council of Europe. This was highlighted by Resolution 1456
(2005) on the Functioning of Democratic Institutions in Azerbaijan which was
adopted by the Assembly on 22 June 2005 which stated : “It
hopes that the forthcoming parliamentary elections will be held in a democratic
and transparent manner, so as to cast no doubt over the credentials of the new
Azerbaijan is a Presidential republic, where broad executive power is
invested in the President of the Republic. The unicameral Parliament of
Azerbaijan, Milli Majlis, which does not exercise oversight of the activities of
the government, consists of 125 members. These
Parliamentary elections were the first elections organised after the 2002
Constitutional amendment that eliminated the proportional list element of the
elections. As a result, all 125 members of Parliament are now elected in single
mandate constituencies according to the “first
past the post” system.
The Parliamentary Elections in Azerbaijan are governed by the
Constitution, the Election Code, the Law on Freedom of Assembly, the Law on
Radio and TV broadcasting, as well as provisions in other laws. The
Election Code has been amended several times, most recently on 28 June 2005.
Regrettably, most recommendations made jointly by the Venice Commission and the
OSCE/ODIHR were not, or only partially, addressed in these amendments.
The amended Election Law has improved the provisions for transparency of
the election process, the requirements for impartiality by all election
commissions and the detailed rights and duties of officials and stakeholders in
the election process.
The ad hoc
Committee regrets that recommendations by PACE and the Venice Commission for
provisions that would have ensured a balanced composition of the election
commissions at all levels were not adopted by the outgoing parliament. This
remained a serious shortcoming in the Election Code. In addition, the Law on
Freedom of Assembly gives local executive authorities considerable discretion to
restrict and ban election rallies and other campaign events, in contradiction to
the principle of freedom of assembly. Provisions in the Election code regarding
appeals and complaint procedures proved to be ambiguous.
The election law of Azerbaijan does not foresee the possibility of voting
abroad. While recognising that a single mandate election system poses a
considerable problem for the organisation of out of country voting, the fact a
sizable part of the Azerbaijani population resides abroad meant that a part of
the Azerbaijani electorate was de facto
disfranchised during these elections.
A significant number of voters in Azerbaijan, are internally displaced
persons (IDPs) from Nagoro-Karabakh or adjacent territories not under control of
government. These IDPs voted in 9 constituencies “in exile” with special
polling stations located all over Azerbaijan. The registration of IDP voters and
the organisation of their voting represented a considerable challenge for the
On 11 May the President of Azerbaijan issued a
decree “On the improvement of Election Practices”, restating the basic
principles of conduct by all election officials and electoral stakeholders for
the holding of democratic elections. These provisions, inter
alia, specifically forbid the interference of officials in the election
process in favour of one candidate or the other. Unfortunately, while widely
welcomed by the international community, this decree seemed to be largely
ignored at regional and local level in Azerbaijan. On 25 October 2005, the
President issued a second decree acknowledging “mistakes and deficiencies in
the sphere of elections”. It identified continued shortcomings in the election
process, including problems with the distribution of voter’s cards – put in
place as a mechanism to prevent double voting – and interference in the
election process by local executive authorities. In this decree the President
proposed, inter alia, to introduce the
use of invisible ink to mark the voters’ fingers as a safeguard against
multiple voting – a proposal of the pre-electoral delegation- , the lifting of
the ban of NGOs that receive more than 30% of their funding from foreign sources
from observing the elections, and improved guidelines on complaint procedures.
In addition the decree called upon the local executive authorities to create
equal conditions for freedom of assembly, and reiterated that administrative and
criminal sanctions would be applied to those officials found guilty of
irregularities during the elections and campaign period. While welcoming the
tenet of the second Presidential decree, and the proposals contained therein,
the ad hoc committee regrets that it was made at too late a stage to be fully
effective in addressing the shortcomings noted during these elections.
The involvement of business interests in the
elections was a point of concern, especially in the light of the absence of
proper provisions regarding financial disclosure and transparency of campaign
finances for candidates and parties competing in the elections.
The Parliamentary Elections were administered by a three-tiered election
administration consisting of the Central Election Commission (CEC), 125
Constituency Elections Commissions (ConECs) and 5,053 Precinct Election
Commissions (PECs). Of these 9
ConECs and 487 PECs subordinated to them were reserved for IDP voters and
located in areas where these IDPs moved to after the 1991 hostilities between
Armenia and Azerbaijan.
In accordance with the transitional provisions of the Election Code, the
Chairperson of every election commission, including
the CEC, was nominated by the ruling parliamentary majority, and pro-government
parties enjoyed a decision-making majority in the commissions at all levels. The
ad hoc Committee regrets that recommendations by the Parliamentary Assembly, as
well as the Venice Commission and OSCE/ODIHR,
which would have provided for a more balanced election administration,
were not implemented. The unbalanced composition of the election commissions
seriously undermined the confidence of the public and electoral stakeholders in
the unbiased functioning of the election administration.
The CEC held regular meetings which were open to the public and met most
of the legal deadlines for the technical preparations as stipulated in the
Election Code. However, the processing of complaints and appeals, as well as the
uniform implementation of the election code by lower level election commissions,
proved to be problematic. After the Presidential Decree of 25 October, which
called for improved guidelines for the complaints and appeals process, the
Venice Commission provided an expert who assisted the CEC in the drafting of
these guidelines, but again this decision was taken too late to be fully
effective as a remedy against the shortcomings noted in this respect.
The organisation of voting by the military was problematic. The Election
Code stipulates that the military should vote in regular polling stations and
that only in exceptional circumstances special military polling stations can be
created. However, special military polling stations were created as a rule
rather than as an exception. In addition the CEC delegated the organisation and
conduct of the military voting to the Ministry of Defence which resulted overall
in a non-transparent voting process of the military.
The ad hoc Committee welcomed the extensive voter education effort that
was conducted by the CEC, with the assistance of the international community,
including the Council of Europe.
and Voter Registration
The candidate registration process was largely trouble free, and
originally led to the registration of more than 2,063 candidates out of 2,148
applicants for the 125 single mandate constituencies, creating the opportunity
for real debate and genuine competition for the public vote on Election Day.
This registration process was a marked improvement over previous elections and
was welcomed by the ad hoc committee.
Several candidates from the ruling YAP party originally registered
themselves for the same mandate in a significant number of constituencies.
Although a considerable number of them withdrew in favour of the officially
supported YAP candidate before Election Day, their candidatures considerably
widened the scope of the political debate in the pre-electoral period.
A large number of candidates, 476 in total, withdrew their candidacy
before the legal deadline of 26 October. In addition 41 candidates were
deregistered by the Court of Appeal or had their candidatures cancelled by the
CEC. Observers received numerous allegations that undue pressure was exerted on
candidates to withdraw in many constituencies. Such undue, and illegal, pressure
included threats of criminal prosecution, tax investigations and closures of
businesses owned by candidates and their families. Moreover, many candidates
deregistered by the Court of Appeals, often on allegations of bribing voters,
alleged that the petitions against them were politically motivated, and that the
last minute nature of these cases did not allow them sufficient time for a
proper appeal before Election Day. The ad hoc Committee would like to stress
that, if proven true, such cases of undue pressure are contrary to democratic
principles and standards and are in violation of the right to stand for
elections as enshrined in the Constitution of Azerbaijan.
The accuracy of the voters’ list remained a point of concern during the
pre-election period. The voters’ list was prepared by the local executive
authorities and the deadline by which voters could request to be entered on the
voters’ list, or update the information pertaining to them, expired on 1
October 2005. Few voters appeared to have taken this opportunity, but it should
be noted that public scrutiny of the voters’ list was hindered by the absence
of addresses on the published voters’ list.
After the deadline expired by which the voters’ list could be changed
by the election commissions, voters who wanted to be entered on the voters list,
or update their information, needed a court order to do so. These court orders
could be obtained until the end of Election Day. Judging from the number of
persons that were added to the voters’ list on Election Day, the ad hoc
Committee has the impression that this court procedure worked relatively
efficiently in the large cities in Azerbaijan, although it seems doubtful that
the same efficiency could be achieved in rural areas.
Citizens residing outside Azerbaijan, but not registered with a
diplomatic representation of Azerbaijan, remained on the voters’ list in
accordance with the Election Code. This is an issue of some concern, given the
apparent lack of accuracy of the voters’ list and the opportunity this could
give for multiple voting on Election Day.
The Election Code stipulates that a voters’ cards is given to each
voter, as proof of inclusion in the voters’ list; and as a mechanism to avoid
multiple voting. However, the distribution of the
voters’ cards proved to be problematic and there was no proper audit of these
cards, making their use as a mechanism to prevent multiple voting questionable
and raising the possibility of disfranchisement of a part of the Azerbaijani
electorate. The pre-electoral delegation therefore strongly recommended to the
Azerbaijani authorities the use of putting ink on voters’ fingers as a way of
preventing multiple voting. The Presidential Decree of 25 October, citing
problems with the distribution of the voters’ cards, instructed the CEC to
introduce the marking of voters’ fingers with invisible ink during these
elections. Moreover the CEC agreed
to abolish, for these elections, the requirement for voters to present a voters’
card in order to vote.
The political climate remains charged and contentious in Azerbaijan.
Attempts by the international community in Azerbaijan to set up a dialogue
between the government and opposition parties failed when the parties could not
agree on a venue for their meeting. Moreover, the widely-held belief that the
opposition parties were planning to stage a campaign of protest and civil
obedience after Election Day in order to achieve a change of power in a similar
manner to as what happened in Tbilisi and Kyiv - although unlikely given the
weak and fragmented nature of the opposition - led to a considerable hardening
of the relationship between government and opposition parties, and an
increasingly polarised campaign environment.
The restriction on freedom of assembly, an unalienable human right in a
democracy, was an issue of great concern during these elections. The government
had, in contradiction to this principle, greatly limited the number of venues,
especially in Baku, where political rallies could be held. Unauthorised rallies
organised by the opposition were met with a disproportionate reaction by the
authorities. The disproportionate violence and brutality, bordering on outright
cruelty, displayed by the police when breaking up unauthorised rallies was
strongly condemned by the pre-electoral delegation. At the same time, the
pre-electoral delegation called on the opposition parties to focus on the
electoral debate and to refrain from seeking violent confrontations with the
The campaign was marred by the interference of local executive
authorities in the election process and the abuse of administrative resources by
local officials in favour of one candidate or the other. Moreover, many
candidates and campaign activists were harassed in the course of their campaign
activities, and numerous cases of detention of opposition candidates, and their
campaign staff, were observed during the pre-electoral period. A number of
reports were received by observers of intimidation and coercion of school staff
and persons working in institutions dependent on state funding, to vote for
selected candidates. The ad hoc Committee would like to stress that such
practices have no place in a democratic society.
In the regions opposition rallies were taking place under close
surveillance of the police, and in a number of cases, authorised rallies were
obstructed or dispersed, further undermining the principle of freedom of
assembly during these elections.
The Presidential Decrees of 11 May and 25 October acknowledged many of
the shortcomings observed in the pre-electoral period and provided instructions
to local executive bodies to ensure that these elections would take place in
compliance with the Election Code and accepted standards for democratic
elections. However, lack of implementation undermined these stated objectives.
The opposition parties in general focussed their campaign rhetoric on
allegations that the governing party was going to rig the elections instead of
focussing on political issues, creating an atmosphere of resentment
and mistrust. The initial refusal of the authorities to introduce the inking of
voters’ fingers - a recommendation of the international community taken up by
the opposition - added to their arguments and undermined public confidence in
the fairness of the election process.
Television is the main source of information in Azerbaijan. The printed
media have little coverage outside urban areas and most newspapers have a
The election law stipulates that political parties, and blocs with
candidates registered in more than 60 constituencies, are entitled to free
broadcast time and print space, under equal conditions, in the state funded
media. The state funded media did adhere to these legal requirements, offering
the candidates the opportunity, albeit not always equal, to make their views
heard among the electorate. The organisation of regular debates has been a
welcome development in this respect.
Overly restrictive interpretation of the media regulations by the CEC,
including the requirement that candidates pay for airtime as paid advertisements
when they are interviewed on news programmes, limited the possibility of
candidates, especially those not belonging to a political bloc or party, to
disseminate their views among the electorate.
The State-funded broadcaster AzTV showed clear bias in its news and
current affairs programmes in favour of the ruling party and largely ignored
opposition activities, thus failing to meet its legal obligation to create equal
access for all election candidates. Public TV (ITV) showed a similar pattern of
favouritism but provided more information regarding the opposition’s
activities than AzTV. The private channels Lider TV, Space TV and AT were
similarly biased in favour of the ruling party.
The privately owned ANS Channel was the only one to provide a more
balanced coverage of the election campaign, although its coverage is less than
that of the other nationwide channels. ANS reported administrative difficulties
regarding its licence during the campaign, which was a point of concern for the
ad hoc Committee
The printed media provided a plurality of views, but were often biased in
their reporting in favour of one party or the other.
Election day - Vote count and tabulation
On Election Day, in general the voting took place in a calm manner with
the voting positively assessed by international observers in 83% of the polling
stations visited. Irregularities and serious violations were, regrettably, also
observed including ballot stuffing, attempts to influence voters and local
executive officials interfering in the voting process.
Despite the late introduction of the inking of voters’ fingers, all
polling stations had received the necessary material in time and the inking
procedure was generally applied satisfactorily in the majority of polling
stations. In addition, the inking procedure was in general well accepted as a
necessary procedure by the Azerbaijani voters. International observers noted
that in 13 % of the polling stations the inking procedure, and especially the
checking of ink on voters’ fingers, was not or not consistently applied. While
this may be related to the fact that the inking procedure was introduced after
the polling station commission members were trained, it diminished in those
cases the effectiveness of the inking procedure as a mechanism against multiple
In a considerable number of places multiple polling stations were located
in the same physical space, which frequently resulted in overcrowding and
limited the transparency of the vote for observers, party representatives and
polling commission members. In addition, polling stations were often inadequate
for disabled or elderly voters.
The conduct of the election process deteriorated significantly during the
vote count and tabulation. International observers assessed that in 43% of the
cases the proceedings during the vote count was bad, or very bad, to the extent
that it undermined the confidence in the accuracy of the results announced.
Tampering with the final protocols was observed in 15% of the polling stations
observed, while final protocols were completed with pencil in another 15% of the
cases. Moreover, observers and party representatives were intimidated in 17% of
the polling stations and unauthorised persons were directing the counting
process in 14% of the vote counts observed. In addition the tabulation at
constituency level was assessed as bad or very bad in 31% of the ConECs visited.
Conclusions and recommendations
The Parliamentary Elections in Azerbaijan on 6 November 2005 did not meet
a number of Council of Europe commitments and standards for democratic Elections.
While there were improvements in some respects during the pre-election period,
shortcomings were evident with regard to key aspects of the process such as
voter registration, and continued restrictions on freedom of assembly, a
fundamental right, marred the campaign period. Voting was generally calm, but
the Election Day process deteriorated progressively during the counting and, in
particular, the tabulation of the votes. High level state authorities expressed
the political will to improve the overall election process, as reflected in two
presidential decrees. However, incoherent implementation by executive
authorities, most notably with regard to provisions prohibiting interference by
the authorities in the election campaign, or the abuse of administrative
resources in favour of certain candidates, undermined the effectiveness of these
The extent of the irregularities and violations during the tabulation and
counting process were such that it undermined faith in the accuracy of the
preliminary results, and consequently public confidence in the fairness of the
The credibility of these elections now depends on the complaints and
appeals process and the manner in which the authorities and the CEC will
investigate and address the irregularities and violations reported. The ad hoc
Committee therefore calls upon the Azerbaijani authorities to fully investigate
all irregularities reported to it and respond to complaints and appeals that are
lodged with it within the deadlines as set out in the Election Code.
Administrative and criminal proceedings should be started, as foreseen in the
Election Code, where violations are found. The results should be annulled, and
reruns ordered, in those constituencies where irregularities are found to have
affected the outcome of these elections. Your rapporteur sees the first
reactions of the Azerbaijani authorities, who annulled the results in a number
of constituencies and started criminal proceedings against various persons
suspected of committing offences against the election Code, as a hopeful sign,
but insists that this should not be limited to a few isolated cases. In this
respect it is important to reiterate the expectations of the Assembly regarding
the fairness of these elections as stated in Resolution
1456 (2005) adopted on 22 June 2005
The incoming Parliament should, without delay, adopt the remainder of the
recommendations made with regard to the Election Code by the Parliamentary
Assembly and the joint Venice Commission/ODIHR opinion, especially where it
concerns the composition of the election commissions.
Taking into account the overall positive assessment of the inking
procedure, and its wide acceptance by the Azerbaijani electorate, the inking of
voters’ fingers should be introduced in the Electoral Code as part of the
voting procedure, at least until the system of voting cards has been properly
implemented and proven effective during a future national election.
Freedom of assembly is an unalienable human right and an essential
component of a democratic society. The
infringements on the principle of freedom of assembly as witnessed during the
pre-electoral period are unacceptable in this respect. The Law on Freedom of
Assembly should be amended so that local executive authorities can no longer
place any undue restrictions on the holding of peaceful rallies.
The ad hoc Committee calls on the Azerbaijani authorities to work with
the Council of Europe on the drafting of a Code of Ethics for the police forces
in order to avoid a repetition of the disproportionate reaction, and brutality,
of the police forces when maintaining public order, as witnessed during the
The ongoing antagonism and polarisation between opposition and governing
parties is hindering the democratic development of Azerbaijan. The ad hoc
Committee calls on both opposition and ruling parties to respect the trust and
responsibility placed invested in them by the Azerbaijani electorate and to
co-operate with the international community in their attempts to facilitate
dialogue between them.
The ad hoc Committee would suggest to the Bureau to consider a post
election mission to Azerbaijan in early 2006 to discuss the findings of the ad
hoc Committee, as well as the action undertaken by the Azerbaijani authorities
to address the shortcomings noted.