Pre-election situation remains traditionally undemocratic


-We are at the stage of propaganda for the parliamentary elections. How do you assess the election situation?

 - The pre-election situation practically does not differ from the previous one in many respects. Assessing the pre-election situation, it is important to see whether political rights and freedoms are respected by the state to those who participate in the elections or not. Freedom of the media should be established within the framework of the requirements of freedom of expression, its appropriateness, both legal and operational, should be assessed. The extent to which human rights and freedoms can be ensured in court must be assessed. We need to look at the implementation of state guarantees of an objective investigation of complaints. Equal access should be granted to parties participating in elections. The attitude to the civil society institutions that will monitor the elections and, in general, control the public, should be evaluated from the point of view of their favor, both in the legal field and in the environment of actual activity. Regarding all these parameters, the pre-election situation in Azerbaijan, unfortunately, does not differ from previous years. On the contrary, long-standing established restrictions prove once again the paralysis that can be seen. Due to the lack of conditions, many political parties refused to participate in the elections. At the same time, parties that decide to participate in the elections are not able to do this at the expense of their full resources. The starting points are not equal. They did not start equally, both in terms of financial resources and in terms of organizational and human resources. This situation, of course, is exacerbated by the fact that the possibilities for equality between the parties are very limited. There is a big gap between them. This creates a very difficult situation for parties participating in the elections. The appearance of this difficult situation from the point of view of international obligations does not meet the standards undertaken by the state.

- What are the differences and similarities between the current parliamentary elections and previous elections?

- The similarity that we see in that remained the same as in the last election, the parameters that I mentioned above - on the protection of human rights and freedoms in Azerbaijan and on the environment for the parties. That is, freedoms continue to be limited. At the same time, at the stage of nominating and registering candidates, we saw that the parties participating in the elections were seriously obstructed. We faced problems such as a delay in nominating candidates, presenting candidates with requirements that went beyond the law, and at the same time, unequal attitude of the authorities towards the participants in the elections. In the case of a candidate supported by the government, election commissions create more expeditious and convenient conditions, and the latest legal deadline is applied to alternative candidates. Moreover, the processes of these candidates are artificially delayed, various obstacles are created, and even attempts to keep them from participating in elections in one form or another. We presented in the report information collected by observers about the withdrawal of candidates from the electoral process due to demands put forward by candidates and even pressure on them. Compared to the situation in 2015 and 2010, we cannot say that the refusal to register candidates in the current election is total. A new silent pressure style was chosen that showed some effects. There are differences in this regard. The positive difference is that there are changes not because of the created conditions, but due to the demand of society. A new generation was born, new faces entered politics. The election process, despite the limited environmental conditions and the established framework, affects the election process. The expansion of the coverage of social networks and online resources, despite the narrowing of the television space by the government, was able to strengthen the social activity of society. The judiciary is also trying to create a lot of confusion using its tools. Sometimes they try to mislead the public by manipulating society, spreading various misinformation, or creating an abundance of inaccurate information. In general, there are more similarities with previous elections. Because system problems have not yet been resolved. They want to create the illusion of some progress. But essentially nothing changes.

- You said there were fewer complaints about the registration of candidates than in previous elections, and they did not have total character. Are there any problems after registration?

- As a result of observations, we identified violations in 74 constituencies. We have grouped violations in our report. There are violations related to the inequality of the attitude of election commissions towards candidates, obstacles to collecting signatures and pressure on parties participating in elections. This pressure is carried out both by administrative bodies, election commissions, and various groups in power. At the same time, we can clearly see outside interference. We also encountered violations such as difficulties in bringing voters' lists to the public, inconvenient posting of lists, and the search for names of citizens in voter lists. Although there are fewer complaints in these elections than in previous elections, invisible indicators remain. Our observations show that the parties that recalled their candidacy in the process had to do this under pressure; they were unsatisfied with the compulsion of their decision. On the other hand, he had to withdraw his complaint, tired of the obstacles that he had to overcome in order to receive documents, sometimes he could not even file a complaint, facing real threats. Assessing the objectivity of the party investigating the complaints, we see that by the 17th day of the month the CEC received 37 complaints, but 24 of the 34 complaints were not satisfied. This is more than 60 percent, and it clearly shows that the CEC avoids satisfying complaints by referring to the unfounded arguments of the OIC, and that undesirable persons identified in constituencies are excluded from the election. All this shows that there is no progress in this process. At the same time, if we look at the process of creating opportunities for the campaign through the media, directly for candidates, we will see that the opportunities for the campaign are very limited. However, the creation of equal conditions for all parties to hold free, transparent and fair elections is the responsibility of the state to international organizations. However, unfortunately, the state is trying to fulfill this obligation in a limited way. This is actually an illusion, which is clearly visible in the language of numbers. For example, in 2010, 4903 places for campaigning were opened and closed, and only 272 places remained in the elections of this year. This is by about 20 times less. Formally, the Electoral Code requires that, with more than 60 candidates from political organizations and blocs participating in the elections, they have free access to broadcast propaganda. In fact, the number of candidates nominated by political organizations was below 60. In this case, only the ruling party received this right by registering more than 60 candidates. As a result, they refused the free broadcast, knowing that the discussion would not take place. It seems that the ruling system has closed the media in the country, especially television and radio, for the election campaign. This is clearly seen in the list of media that applied to the CEC for paid advertising. The focus of the media is news, politics and the dissemination of information. The lack of television channels during the election process seems an absurd approach, and no one in the world can explain this. The fact that the media are not involved in this process does not mean that they are not interested in information and news about the elections. It is clear that their non-participation in the process was authorized by the authorities. Everyone knows that these TV channels are controlled by the ruling family and its environment. According to the law, Public Television cannot refuse to pay for election campaigning. Private television has this right, but Public television does not. Since they do not have such a right, they formally create this opportunity, in fact, determining a price that will block access to airtime for participants. When you look at the price, you can see it clearly. ITV requires from the candidate more than 1,500 manat per minute of broadcasting. This is more than 77 manat per second. According to simple mathematical calculations, if a deputy wants to run a campaign within 37 minutes, and is elected a member of parliament, he will spend his five-year salary from the very beginning. This is an absurd price. We determine the absurdity of value because the price list on a public television channel is known. This is not last year’s rate. Because the information itself is not transparent. However, according to statistics of 2015, the annual price of television advertising is 2.44 manat per minute. Look at the fantastic difference. Candidates for television advertising, for which 2.44 manats per minute are charged for commercial purposes, will pay more than 1,500 manats per minute during the election campaign. This clearly shows that they do not want to broadcast for advertising, in any case. The theme of the elections, their coverage on the air, monitoring of the media participating in the election of parties and especially the blocking of the concept of “opposition” is aimed at keeping the public from political discussions and public debates in the election campaign. They do not want people to be active.

- What do your observations say so far? Is it possible to expect any positive results from the authorities in this election? Are the problems posed by candidates who are former deputies?

- Even when the elections began, the authorities began to promote the version of how they should carry out serious reforms, and the parliament was dissolved because it impedes the implementation of reforms. However, the wait created by this informational stuffing did not last very long. That is, when the list of candidates for deputies from New Azerbaijan was announced, it became clear that this was only short-term propaganda. Most of the deputies who did not respond to the reforms were re-nominated by the party. On the other hand, representatives of the new and middle generation who were never involved in politics, and representatives of the middle class business, who believed that such a reform would take place, also tried to take part in the elections. When they came to the constituency and saw the attitude of the executive authorities towards them, they quickly realized that the old situation had not changed. The selection process of those few who have taken the seats of others, and who will sit in the new parliament, may begin after obtaining a “visa” for their participation. These approaches have revealed reality. They began to feel what was happening on themselves. Naturally, the government, one way or another, is trying to continue the propaganda that began at the start of the election. They also try to show it on certain numbers. According to the CEC, this time the registration of candidates is at a record high level; this year's indicators are significantly different from 2005. Of course, compared to 2015 and 2010, the number of candidates may seem huge. However, when the initial phase of the registration process has ended, that is, from January 17 to today, we observe massive withdrawals of candidates from the elections. These exits do not occur spontaneously. Some candidates who do not have political experience or feel harsh about themselves from the authorities receive information; they receive messages in any form that it is time for them to withdraw their candidacies. Already there are those who were forced to leave the election. All this shows that there is no positive change. Simply, the approach may be that the government is working to create a formal situation that will soften the OSCE election report, especially from international observers, in order to receive positive feedback from the international community and partners and to continue propaganda on this basis. To manipulate society again. However, this ironic and tacit approach of the authorities will continue in the elections until the lunch break. After the lunch, the candidates participating in the elections and awaiting the actual voting results will see the real situation.

-Speaking at the “Strategic Vision: Eurasia” conference in Davos, President Ilham Aliyev said that people whom people trust would be elected in the early parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan on February 9. It turns out that violators of the Electoral Code and those who falsify the elections will go against the will of the president?

- We can agree with a logical confrontation in this matter if we do not know the president’s attitude to the previous elections and his assessment of the results. Commenting on his election and previous elections, the president said that these elections were transparent and democratic and that they were the result of the will of the people. However, before our eyes are our observations, the views of international organizations, key international monitoring missions, which are known to the public and the media. There is a denial of problems, a departure from reality. They are trying to prove that society is obliged to accept the version of elections presented by them. I do not think that the current opinion of the authorities is different from previous approaches.

-Do you encounter any problems as an election observer, and at the level of your organization?

- So far, we have not encountered any obstacles in the performance of this work. This is also worth noting. Of course, access to information is not easy. Our access to data is not easy. The CEC does not disclose information to the public. At the same time, our observers may not get access to the necessary documents and information when they are in different constituencies and demand this information. When issuing information, the relevant authorities do not always behave appropriately. There are no favorable conditions for monitoring the election process during monitoring. We come to polling stations and see violations in the posted voter lists. However, we have not yet encountered any signs of persecution of observers from our organization and ourselves.

- What is needed for fair and transparent elections on February 9? What needs to be done to avoid election irregularities? What should voters do, what should candidates do, and what should authorities do?

- The government should stop the attitude that it had until today. Instead of publishing statements in the media that these elections would not repeat the previous ones, the authorities should conduct real elections, and not manipulate the information sent to the public. To give society real information. At the same time, just as the society is given video information about the meetings of the president with officials, it would be good if the public received a full picture of the conversations and instructions of the president with subordinates at the local executive level. Secondly, real action must be taken so that everyone sees that the guidelines are not only words, but also the intention to fulfill them. In addition, adequate measures should be taken to eliminate violations. Serious steps must be taken to punish those who committed the violation. Real steps must be taken to properly investigate complaints and make informed decisions, as well as to restore the rights of individuals whose rights have been violated. Parties participating in the elections should increase their activity, and public control should be strengthened. Although late, the authorities should begin to create an atmosphere of dialogue with parties participating in the elections. Given the approaching end of the election campaign, the government should give one last chance and take appropriate steps. Real steps must be taken to eliminate political tensions. Political prisoners should be released. A dialogue should be maintained with political opponents in various areas on issues of public interest. They should be given access to closed air, in particular, ITV is obliged to provide access to various parties and the opposition, and this is its immediate task and duty. The resolution of these issues, of course, depends on the will of the Azerbaijani authorities. If the Azerbaijani government wishes to do this, it can take real steps to solve these problems within a day.

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