IRFS COMMENTS ON THE NOVEMBER 7th 2010 PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS

November 10th, 2010
Prepared by Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety

A. General information.
      
These comments are based on the observations of IRFS employees, information provided by NGOs, journalists and the candidates themselves, as well as the  professional monitoring of Azerbaijani TV channels, radios and newspapers in a period covering the pre-election period and the election campaign as well.  On the day of the elections, IRFS employees surveyed numerous polling stations across several constituencies.

B. Content.

This report concludes that the elections were conducted in an undemocratic climate, that journalists were prevented from carrying out their professional duties, and that multiple violations occured during the voting. These violations could affect the voting results.

I.    Pre-election period:

•    Freedom of expression in Azerbaijan is subject to severe restrictions. Three journalists are in prison: the editor-in-chief of Gundelik Azerbaijan and Realniy Azerbaydjan newspapers Eynulla Fatullayev (the ECHR decision on his immediate release has still not been executed) and youth bloggers Emin Milli (Abdullayev) and Adnan Hajizadeh. Media legislation still permits the prosecution of journalists for defamation; within past year, Constitutional amendments were passed, further restricting freedom of expression (for example, it is now illegal to photograph or film of someone without permission).
 
•    Freedom of assembly was neither guaranteed nor protected, all applications to hold political rallies were rejected, and any unsanctioned meetings were forcibly broken up.

•    There were serious legal violations during the candidate registration process, and as a result, many opposition candidates had their applications rejected. The majority of the appeals sent to the Central Election Commission and the courts were dismissed.

•    There were hardly any radio or television programs focusing on the elections (educational, debates and discussion) during the pre-election period or the election campaign. These types of programs would be useful in educating citizens about their political choices.

•    The political parties running in the elections were not covered equally in the media. The ruling YAP party chairman, President Ilham Aliyev, was covered positively and extensively .

•    State-run AzTV and Sport-Azerbaijan TV channels did not allocate free airtime for political candidates.

•    Despite the availability of broadcasting resources (state-run TV channels), Public TV channel was the only one to allocate the four minutes of free airtime for each candidate. Four minutes was not sufficient to communicate ideas to voters.
 
•    Lider TV, a private channel, conducted a smear campaign against the opposition. Khazar and ATV also broadcasted this kind of material.

•    The government tightened up the visa procedures, and actually stopped granting visas altogether. As a result, international observers and journalists visiting the country or wishing to visit the country faced restrictions.

II.    Voting day:

•    Multiple violations were revealed in most of the election precincts and constituencies around the Republic:

1. ‘’carousel“ operation (where a group of people go from precinct to precinct, voting over and over again)
2. same person allowed to vote more than once,
3. putting more than one ballot into the ballot box,
4. police presence in the precincts, during the vote counting.
5. efforts of unidentified officials to try to influence voters in and around precincts,
6. the observers were expelled from voting stations. Some were detained by police and taken to court.
7.The live observation service promised by the CEC (via webcams) www.cec.gov.az did not work in any of the 500 precincts.
            8. The employees of state-run enterprises were involved in organized  voting in favor of pre-determined candidates.
9. A significant number of journalists were prevented from carrying out their professional duties in the election constituencies and precincts;
10. Voter turnout was very low*

*IRFS believes that the reduction of the official campaign period to 23 days had a significant impact on this.

B.    Conclusion

Considering the aforementioned mass fraud, IRFS concludes that the results of the 2010 parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan will not reflect what people actually want. Given the final outome of these falsified results, IRFS believes that all the fraudulent actions were carried out in order to serve government’s interests. The fact that the elections were falsified using administrative resources (commission members, police, teachers, doctors and military servants) supports this thesis.
IRFS calls upon relevant executive and judiciary bodies to comply with the recommendations below.

C.    Recommendation.

I.        For Azerbaijani authorities:

a.    All legal violations should be investigated and the guilty persons brought to justice.
 
b.    The voting results of the election constituencies where serious violations occured should be annulled, and new elections held.

c.    Candidates should not face problems during the candidate registration process in future elections (including any new elections this year).

d.    Journalists should be allowed to operate without obstruction in the election precincts on the voting day. This includes taking photos and filming during voting hours. All observers should be allowed to take photos and videos.

e.    A smart video system (ie. a facial recognition system) should be set up in all election precincts to prevent the same person voting more than once.
 
f.    Free airtime should be allocated to the candidates on all the state-financed TV channels. Ammendments should be made to the legislation in order to secure this.

g.    Out of concern for the undue influence of government influenced commanding officers, and the problem of soldiers voting outside of their home constituency, soldiers serving in the military units located in election constituencies should not vote during the parliamentary and municipal elections (this thought does not apply to presidential elections or referenda).

h.    Imprisoned journalist Eynulla Fatullayev and bloggers Emin Milli (Abdullayev) and Adnan Hajizadeh should be released immediately.

i.    Freedom of assembly should be guaranteed and protected; citizens and political parties should be allowed to freely express their opinions.

j.    Legislation should be amended to ensure that perpetrators of any kind of election fraud are punished.

k.    The posters of the founder of ruling YAP party and the current YAP chairman Ilham Aliyev should be removed from the election precincts.

The locations of the voting stations should be changed to relieve their density in election precincts.