Assessment report on preparation and result of the 26 September constitutional referendum in Azerbaijan
EMDS believes that comprehensive assessment of 26 September 2016 Referendum requires consideration of all stages of the referendum including evaluation of awareness raising among public on proposed amendments, political situation and conditions prior to the referendum, the election legislation, conduct of the Referendum Day and vote tabulation against the legislation of the country and its international commitments.
EMDS notes with regret that there was no significant improvements in the fields of freedoms of speech, association and assembly, along with electoral legislation and opportunities for political participation during the Referendum. Pressure and harassment of political activists continued. Amendments to the Constitution were submitted to the Constitutional Court and then put for the Referendum without holding any public discussions and without consulting the civil society, the Parliament and the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe representing only the interests of the ruling party.
EMDS notes with concern that opposition parties were denied an opportunity to participate in the Referendum campaigning which was dominated by the ruling party. Analysis of the information provided by journalists, voters and observers shows that the Referendum Day was marred with violations including ballot-box stuffing, multiple voting, group voting (carousel) and voting of persons without registration, similar irregularities from the previous elections. EMDS observed that voter turnout was artificially raised in majority of polling stations through multiple voting, voting without registration and ballot-box stuffing. The official turnout do not correspond to the real figures.
The Referendum further deepened the political crisis in the country and shaken the public confidence in transition of power through democratic and peaceful elections, as well as in the rule of law and parliamentarism. In order to address the issue, the government should take necessary measures to restore trust of opposing political forces. Such measures should include improvement of the Election Code, lifting the restrictions on political freedoms, halting all forms of political persecution, and the release of all political prisoners.
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