EMDS is a non-partisan non-governmental organization working for holding free and fair elections, as well as the development of civil society and democracy in Azerbaijan. EMDS carried out the long-term observation of the 23 December 2019 Municipal Elections in Azerbaijan covering all stages of the electoral process – nomination of candidates, campaigning, election day voting and vote counting processes.
EMDS conducted the long-term observation in cooperation with 17 non-partisan observers while working with 125 observers on election day. On election day, observers were deployed to randomly selected and nationally representative 125 polling stations covering all of the 118 election constituencies based on Statistically Based Observation methodology. Elections were not conducted in 7 constituencies in the Nagorno Karabakh and other occupied territories.
The elections were conducted in an environment with restricted fundamental rights and freedoms, in particular freedoms of assembly, association and expression that are essential for free and fair elections. With 112 people imprisoned on politically motivated charges, political repressions continued according to domestic human rights groups. As a result, the majority of opposition representatives and activists did not take part in the elections. Thus, political activism was not witnessed at the national and local level during the elections and the municipal elections were not marked with an environment of competition among opposing political forces.
EMDS assessed the work of the Central Election Commission (CEC) with regards to registration of observers positively but noted shortcomings in the work of the Constituency Election Commissions (ConEC) some of which denied registration of observers. Overall, the transparency of the electoral process was not ensured to the level stipulated in the law and some ConECs refused to provide information on the number of candidates, their political affiliation, and the number of registered observers.
EMDS observed abuse of administrative resources during the nomination and registration of candidates and the refusal of registration of some candidates without reasonable justification. The vast majority of these candidates were independent. However, no complaints were addressed to the courts.
EMDS also noted cases of pressure and harassment directed at candidates and observers by local executive authorities, ConEC and PEC members, and municipality employees. Destruction of campaign materials of some candidates displayed within the territory of PECs was not investigated. Overall, the campaign period was passive and uncompetitive. The main reasons behind it were unfavourable election environment, a boycott of elections by major opposition parties and the announcement of 9 February 2020 snap Parliamentary Elections which resulted in an overlap of two elections.
EMDS observed serious violations during the voting and vote-counting process on election day. These violations included voting by unregistered voters and ballot-box stuffing in 45% of polling stations, and one person voting multiple times in 43% of polling stations. Non-partisan observers and journalists faced harassment on election day. The harassment was directed at citizens noting violations and wishing to observe the counting process which casts a shadow on the transparency of the process.
EMDS noted significantly lower voter turnout than official figures in the most of the polling stations. Observers cooperating with EMDS recorded around 21% voter turnout while the CEC announced it to be at 32.7%. This discrepancy must be thoroughly investigated. EMDS believes that the voter turnout was artificially increased as a result of ballot-box stuffing and voting by non-registered voters.
Election commissions, especially the CEC did not put forward adequate efforts to prevent undue interference in the electoral process, avert serious irregularities or investigate violations and complaints in contradiction with their duties to administer the elections in a transparent and lawful manner.
The observation of all stages of the 23 December 2019 municipal elections by EMDS demonstrates that the elections were held in an environment with severe restriction of political freedoms, lack of equal and authentic opportunities for competition, and widespread violations during voting and vote-counting processes. The elections were marred with the lack of alternative choices. Therefore the municipal elections did not adhere to the requirements of the national legislation and international standards of free and fair elections and did not represent the true will of Azerbaijani public.
EMDS recommends to address the shortcomings noted during the election period and to identify people responsible for serious violations occurred during campaign and election day holding them liable. EMDS believes that it is important to demonstrate political determination for the improvement of election legislation and practice in order to avoid damaging the trust in electoral processes in Azerbaijan and peaceful transition of power.
Read the full preliminary report here