How to reform the electoral system in Azerbaijan?

Representatives of Azerbaijani opposition and civil society in the country support recommendations for reforming the country's electoral system put forward in the ODIHR’s final report on the presidential election on October 9.

   The final report on the monitoring results of the presidential election on October 9 in Azerbaijan, ODIHR distributed on December 24. It notes that the current makeup of election commissions allows the adoption of a decision in favor of the interests of the government. This undermines confidence in the impartiality of various representatives of electoral administration, further stated in the final report.

   It is also recommended to revise the public participation of Azerbaijani legislation on freedom of assembly, expression and association in accordance with international standards. It is proposed to extend the electoral process to provide better opportunities to potential candidates and other participants.

   Political will is needed to address such serious violations as stuffing ballots in the ballot boxes.

In addition, the report calls on the Azerbaijani authorities to "take additional measures to prevent the holding of elections in an atmosphere of fear," eliminate criminal penalties for libel and insult, and for the Electoral Code to reflect the rights of citizens to receive through the media comprehensive information about the political alternatives. It is also recommended to expand opportunities for election monitoring by local representatives.

   Deputy head of the party "Musavat" Gulaga Aslanly, told Turan that the political organization also stands for a radical reform of the electoral system. According to him, "Musavat" supports the proposals to reform the electoral system put forward in the autumn of 2012 by a large group of independent lawyers.

   These proposals include the change in the principles of formation of election commissions and suggest "balanced representation in them on an equal basis of the main political forces."

   "This is just adequate, the ODIHR recommendations on ensuring public confidence in the electoral commissions. On an equal footing should be allocated positions in the election commissions," said Aslanly.

   Moreover, he added, it is necessary to provide equal opportunities for conducting the election campaign, including campaigning. It is not just about equal access to TV and radio, but also meetings with voters.

"The ruling party, "Yeni Azerbaijan" stated on the presidential election last year, had more than 2,500 meetings with voters, while across the country a total of 94 indoor and outdoor locations were provided. So, they had the privilege of meeting in other places," said Aslanly.

  In addition, the "Musavat" stands for giving voters the right to give their signatures in support of different candidates. Checking the documents of candidates, including voter signatures, must be conducted by an independent expert group. Alternatively, for the registration of candidates, in case of invalid signatures, it is proposed to restore the prior mechanism on cash deposits.

   It is also proposed to increase the terms of the election campaign, which is now reduced to 60 days, and the stage agitation to 22 days.

   Head of the Supreme Majlis of the PFPA, Hasan Karimov, in turn, said that PPFA individually, and as part of the political blocs, have repeatedly sent to Parliament proposals for reforming the electoral system.

  The PPFA supports equal representation in the election commissions of all political forces.

"The current system where the interested forces are represented in election commissions by members of an advisory capacity, are not effective. On October 9, the presidential election won the candidate of the National Council, Jamil Hasanli. But his representatives in the election commissions were evicted in the afternoon, and state – controlled commissioners falsified voting results," said Karimov.

   He also noted the need to ensure freedom of assembly at elections, and equal access of all candidates to all channels of the country.

   "Six minutes to campaign on ITV are not enough. All channels should give air time to candidates," said Karimov.

   The Head of the Research Center "East-West," Arastun Orujlu, also considers it necessary to reform the electoral system. However, according to him, the choice of the optimal formula of election commissions of education is a very challenging task.

   "Previously was proposed a mechanism for the formation of commissions on a parity basis between the government and the opposition. But now, the opposition itself is very heterogeneous and there is a question of the representation of the party in this parity. Formation of the commissioners from the number of independent persons also suffers from shortcomings. So, now formally a third election committee consists of members of the commission, but they are acting at the behest of one political force," said Orujlu.

   The Executive Secretary of the civil movement "Republican Alternative" ( REAL ), Natig Jafarli, believes that discussions about the formation of election commissions place distance from the main issue - the restoration of people's trust in the elections. It requires, first of all, a political will.

   According to Jafarli, a good chance to demonstrate this will is coming in the December municipal elections.

   "Azerbaijan is the only member of the CE in which there is not an institution of elected mayors. Moreover, in the big cities there are not citywide municipalities. Therefore, the authorities can use the municipal elections, in the first place, to create urban municipalities in Baku, Ganja, Sumgait, and provide the introduction of an elected mayor’s institute in these and several other large cities. While the authorities conduct an honest vote in municipal elections, this becomes a less painful question. Municipalities have very limited capacity, and fair elections would determine the rating of the present political forces on the basis of which they would define their ambitions. In Azerbaijan the rating of political forces is determined not by elections, as in all normal states, but by the number of people who came to the meetings, which of course cannot be an objective criterion," said Jafarli. -06B—

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