azerbadjan

The main political force is the New Azerbaijan Party (YAP – Yeni Azərbaycan Partiyası).

Election Election in Azerbaijan. Lower interest among young voters

Elections in Azerbaijan have regularly been criticized by international observers and mainly seem to be a formalization of political balance agreed by different economical interest groups in the country. Being split, the opposition parties now once again admit that, in addition to election fraud, they suffer from low support from an electorate that sees them as a weak force in society. In the foreseeable future political changes in Azerbaijan will rather be a result of shifting powers within the elite than of electoral processes.

Published on balticworlds.com on december 16, 2010

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For more than a decade after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the main European institution for election monitoring formulated its assessments in terms of a search for signs of a positive evolution in the election processes. This approach was bitterly criticized by the opposition in Azerbaijan, especially when police used excessive violence during demonstrations that occurred following the country’s 2003 presidential election. As late as 2008, several of the main opposition parties expressed non-confidence in the government, but also in international observers, by boycotting the presidential elections – just as in 1998.

The Parliamentary Elections on November 7 2010 made the opposition, as well as the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR), modify their behavior. The opposition participated, and the run up to the elections and the day of voting passed without violent incidents. However, the key conclusion from the ODIHR monitors was harsh: “The conduct of these elections overall was not sufficient to constitute meaningful progress in the democratic development of the country”.

Unlike in many other former Soviet republics, all 125 members of the Azerbaijani parliament are elected in single-seat constituencies. Thus, there has been little pressure on the many independent or nominally independent candidates to join a party or to form a party of their own. Thus, usually some 1/3 or even more of the National Assembly (Milli Məclis) is made up of people without formal party affiliation[i].

The main political force is the New Azerbaijan Party (YAP – Yeni Azərbaycan Partiyası), which was founded by Heydar Aliyev during the first year of Azerbaijan’s independence. Aliyev became president in 1993, and starting in 2000, YAP has had a majority of its own in parliament. YAP is also the platform of Heydar Aliyev’s son, the current president Ilham Aliyev.

The main opposition forces, the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (Azərbaycan Xalq Cəbhəsi Partiyası) and Equality Party (Müsavat Partiyası) got a total of 8 and 6 mandates after the elections of 2000 and 2005, respectively. However, according to the polls carried out by Mitofsky International[ii] and Edison Media Research, the support for these parties might have been twice as high in both elections[iii]. Yet, due to lack of regular barometers of public opinion, we do not have reliable poll ratings. After the recent elections, these two parties were officially adjudged less than two percent each and thus lost their representation in parliament.

Other minor parties that received mandates after the November 7 2010 elections can be described as pro-government, such as the Motherland Party (Ana Vətən Partiyası), or neutral, such as United Popular Front Party (Bütöv Azərbaycan Xalq Cəbhəsi Partiyasi), or “low-voice oppositional”, such as the Civil Solidarity Party (Vətəndaş Həmrəyliyi Partiyası), the Democratic Reforms Party (Demokratik İslahatlar Partiyası), the Great Creation Party (Böyük Quruluş Partiyası), the Justice Party (Ədalət Partiyası), and the Hope Party (Azərbaycan Ümid Partiyasi).

Nominally, the government party and opposition have many common features in their programs. Priority is given to regulation of the Karabakh conflict in a way that restores the territory of the Soviet republic of Azerbaijan. In general, they prefer socially oriented market economy and integration with the system of European security.

Thus the main argument when approaching the voters often is that a certain party has the most competent and reliable candidates. For example, the governmental New Azerbaijan Party (YAP) emphasizes that it was founded by the dominating figure in Azeri politics for more than 30 years, Heydar Aliyev[iv]. YAP also often recalls the fact that the party includes five members and three associate members of the National Academy of Science, ten rectors of universities and twenty PhDs and professors[v]. When commenting on each other the YAP-oriented candidates have been highlighting the split between opposition parties and questioning the seriousness of some of their candidates. The opposition, in turn, has been criticizing the authorities for intimidation and restrictions for political life and the media. Due to limited resources most of the opposition has been focusing their campaigning efforts on the capital and neighboring regions.

Almost all nominated candidates of the majority party were accepted during the registration process unlike the opposition, which got less than half of its candidates registered[vi]. A common argument centered on shortcomings of the signatures on the nomination lists (each candidate had to be nominated by at least 450 voters). Several voters did indeed withdraw their signatures after have being contacted by the authorities, i.e. saying that they thought they were signing a petition for another purpose. In Oguz, in constituency number 117, the commission denied registration to a candidate saying that they got information from a health center that he has cancer. No such medical information had been given to the candidate himself from the health center.

In June, the law on elections was amended so that the campaign period now starts only 23 days before Election Day. The amendments also eliminated the previous limited state funding that existed for campaigning. Any campaign meeting held in other places than the officially allocated ones were considered by the authorities to be illegal. The venues offered by the authorities were often small and located in peripheral areas.

The main opportunity for candidates to present their message in the media was by participating once in a four-minute daily roundtable discussion on public TV. Some state-owned newspapers offered free space. Fifteen candidates took the opportunity to buy time for paid political advertising in the two national TV channels offering it. However, according to media monitoring by international observers, the elections on TV were mainly covered by news programs being positive and neutral to the president and his party, YAP. By contrast, reporting on opposition candidates and journalists were often negative.

The Web site of the private Baku-based news agency Trend has a special section on the 2010 elections, which in a modest way reflects the general attitude among the media[vii]. The few items focusing on the views of the opposition are available only to subscribers; all other articles can be accessed by anyone for free. The summary of the conclusions published by international observers the day after the elections gives an overall positive picture saying that they have seen development of Azerbaijan as a democratic country. The serious shortcomings highlighted in the preliminary report from the observers (se below) were not mentioned[viii].

One phenomenon that was criticized by the OSCE-ODIHR observers was the division of voters between the constituencies. The Election Code stipulates that the number of voters registered in each constituency should not deviate in exceptional cases more than 10 percent from the average number of voters per constituency. However, the number of registered voters in some 35 constituencies deviated more than 10 percent from the average and in some cases significantly more, which undermines the equality of the vote.

The turnout, 50.1 percent, was at the same level as last parliamentary elections but remarkably lower than during the 1990s and the presidential elections in 2003 and 2008 (68–75 percent)[ix]. As a matter of fact, some 70 percent had also said that they were going to vote this time, according to public opinion surveys, however, the interest seems to have been lower among voters aged 18–30.[x]. Opposition representatives say that many voters did not show up[xi] due to harassment during the pre-election period, e.g. people being fired or threatened for expressing support for certain candidates. Some of these incidents have been documented by international observers.

The share of international observers assessing the vote count negatively has been high for the Azeri elections during last decade even if the figure has been decreasing slowly[xii]. However, this time the share of OSCE-ODIHR observers saying they saw the counting being performed in a bad or very bad manner rose to 31 percent[xiii]. In over 11 percent of counts observed, the numbers of ballots in the boxes were higher than the number of ballots handed out according to the list where every voter had to sign. Identical signatures were found in 8 percent of the polling stations visited, i.e. someone had been voting there in the name of others.

The scope of ballot stuffing observed was among the most extensive ever registered in any post-Soviet country – 5 percent. Ballot stuffing means that bundles of ballots – usually several tens at a time – are added secretly. Thus in every 20th polling station enough ballots were illegally added to make it possible to transpose the order between the first two candidates.

Thus, the results from the 2010 elections that were confirmed by the Constitutional Court on November 29 are highly questionable.

A positive element, however, is that the share of female candidates increased from 10 to 13 percent compared to the last parliamentary elections.

In the aftermath of the elections, the ruling party has been criticizing the conclusions of the OSCE-ODIHR election monitoring mission saying that it is “implementing instructions of some sources”[xiv]. The OSCE-ODIHR assessments are based on statistics from observations in 1100 polling stations (out of 5175) visited by 22 long-term observers and 405 short time observers from most countries in Europe and Northern America deployed throughout Azerbaijan.

So far, political goals in post-Soviet Azerbaijan have mainly been pursued by means other than elections. During the first two years of independence, in 1992 and 1993, the first two presidents were ousted as a result of military defeats in the war with Armenia, a split in the army, and an inability to curb corruption. In this critical moment the National Assembly invited the de facto strongman in Azerbaijani politics, Heydar Aliyev, to become speaker with temporary presidential powers. In 1967–87, Aliyev held positions as head of KGB and later was the leader of the Communist Party in Azerbaijan and finally also in the Soviet Politburo. The last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, had Aliyev resign because of corruption charges; however, a few months before the dissolution of Soviet Union he became the leader of the Azerbaijani exclave Nakhchivan. A couple of months after the appointment as Azerbaijani speaker Aliyev was elected president in 1993. Just as his predecessors, he became subject to a coup attempt from the military; however, his personal network enabled him to survive politically and to strengthen control over the state. Before his death in 2003 he concentrated his efforts to pave the way for his son Ilham to become president in the elections that took place the same year, thus founding a political dynasty.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) regularly criticizes arrests, intimidation, harassment, and physical threats of journalists in Azerbaijan. Elections in the country have also regularly been criticized by international observers and mainly seem to be a formalization of political balance agreed by different economical interest groups in the country. Being split, the opposition parties now once again admit that, in addition to election fraud, they suffer from low support from an electorate that sees them as a weak force in society. In the foreseeable future political changes in Azerbaijan will rather be a result of shifting powers within the elite than of electoral processes. 

 Results[xv]

Parties Seats
New Azerbaijan Party (Yeni Azərbaycan Partiyası) YAP 71
Civic Solidarity Party (Vətəndaş Həmrəyliyi Partiyası) 3
Motherland Party (Ana Vətən Partiyası) 2
Democratic Reforms Party (Demokratik İslahatlar Partiyası) PDR 1
Great Creation Party (Böyük Quruluş Partiyası) 1
Justice Party (Ədalət Partiyası) 1
Hope Party (Azərbaycan Ümid Partiyasi) 1
United Popular Front Party (Bütöv Azərbaycan Xalq Cəbhəsi Partiyasi) 1
Azerbaijan Social Prosperity Party (Azərbaycan Sosial Rifah Partiyası) ASPP 1
Civic Union Party (Vətəndaş Birliyi Partiyasi) CUP 1
Equality Party (Müsavat Partiyası)
Azerbaijani Popular Front Party (Azərbaycan Xalq Cəbhəsi Partiyası) APFP
Independents, candidates who did not indicate their party affiliation 42
Total (turnout 50.14%) 125

references

  1. “The Candidates That Will Be Participating in the Parliamentary Elections Have Been Identified”, Azerbaijan 2010, Center for Strategic Studies under the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, sam.gov.az, accessed 2010-12-07.
  2. Warren Mitofsky and Joe Lenski: “Adventure In Baku: Exit-Polling Azerbaijan”, The National Council on Public Polls (NCPP), http://www.ncpp.org accessed 2010-12-07.
  3. Daria Vaisman: Poll Stir, 2005-11-03, http://quirkglobalstrategies.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2007/09/Poll%20Stir.doc, accessed 2010-12-08.
  4. See the YAP Web site http://www.yap.org.az/.
  5. “The Candidates That Will Be Participating in the Parliamentary Elections Have Been Identified”, Azerbaijan 2010, Center for Strategic Studies under the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, sam.gov.az, accessed 2010-12-07.
  6. Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions, 2010-11-07, OSCE-ODIHR / OSCE Parliamentary Assembly / Council of Europe / European Parliament, http://www.osce.org/documents/odihr/.
  7.  http://en.trend.az/news/elections2010/, accessed 2010-12-08.
  8. A representative example is the article at http://en.trend.az/news/elections2010/1779344.html accessed 2010-12-08.
  9. See also Public Opinion in Azerbaijan 2005, http://www.ifesaze.org.
  10. Public Opinion Survey On Moral And Social Stance Of Azerbaijani Youth, Oct 2010, Open Society Institute – Assistance Foundation. www.osi.az, accessed 2010-12-07.
  11. Apathy Tarnishes Azeri Vote, Reuters 2010-11-08, accessed 2010-12-08 at http://www.themoscowtimes.com/.
  12. Final reports on the parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan 2001 and 2005 and presidential elections 2003 and 2008, http://www.osce.org/odihr-elections/.
  13. Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions, 2010-11-07, OSCE-ODIHR / OSCE Parliamentary Assembly / Council of Europe / European Parliament, http://www.osce.org/documents/odihr/.
  14. “OSCE PA to Discuss Elections Held in Azerbaijan”, Trend News Agency 2010-11-25, http://en.trend.az/news/elections2010/1787563.html, accessed 2010-12-08.
  15. Source: Court confirms parliamentary election results, News.Az 2010-11-29,  http://www.news.az/articles/politics/27315, accessed 2010-12-08.
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