Azerbaijan

Report on the preparation to and political situation prior to the 27 December 2019 Municipal Elections

Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Center (EMDS) prepared an assessment of the preparations to the 27 December 2019 Municipal Elections, the fifth in the history of independent Azerbaijan. The document analyses the pre-election situation and the implementation status of recommendations of domestic and international organizations, particularly those by Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE/ODIHR) and the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) along with relevant recommendations of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe with regards to improvement of Azerbaijan’s election legislation along with current election practices.

EMDS believes that the authorities failed to address shortcomings of the Election Code despite the repeated calls and recommendations of domestic organizations, the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe and the OSCE/ODIHR. Fair composition of election commissions, effective protection mechanisms of the election right, preventing illegal interference with the electoral process, improving regulations for registration of candidates and shortcomings in voter lists remain unaddressed.

EMDS welcomes the decision to lift travel bans imposed on some journalists prior to the elections. However, 112 people, including 5 journalists, remain in prison under political motives for dissenting views and criticising the government. Access to more than 20 websites, including websites of major news outlets like “Azadlig” newspaper, Radio Free Europe, and Meydan TV, is blocked from Azerbaijan which severely restricts the freedom of expression prior to the elections.

EMDS notes with regrets that opposition members frequently face criminal prosecution, and harassment by the authorities which create obstacles for opposition members to pursue candidacy during the upcoming Municipal Elections. Amendments to the legislation adopted by the Parliament in 2013-2015 and the discriminatory policies of the authorities strictly restricted the activities of civil society which ultimately weakened the role of civil society in addressing local and national issues. EMDS regards the increase of restrictions to freedom of assembly in recent years, including administrative detention of 128 persons for attending protest rallies and demonstrations as a threat to political pluralism during the Municipal Elections.

The authorities did not improve the mechanisms for voter registration, an important part of the preparation for the election. A significant discrepancy of the number of voters reported by the State Statistical Committee (SSC) and the figures provided by the Central Election Commission (CEC) has not been resolved or clarified. The CEC puts the number of voters in the country at more than five million while, according to the SSC, there are around seven million citizens above the voting age of 18. The two million discrepancy has not been addressed. Similarly to previous municipal elections, the authorities failed to ensure the right of people displaced from Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding regions to vote or be elected.

EMDS stresses that the authorities should prevent undue interference with the registration of independent and opposition candidates, and should demonstrate political will for holding the 27 December 2019 in a free, fair and competitive environment.

In order to ensure freeness and fairness of the elections, the authorities should lift restrictions to the freedom of assembly, guarantee necessary conditions for candidates to hold meetings and rallies with voters, eliminate the ban on opposition views on national TVs, prevent illegal interference with the work of the courts investigating election violations and implement the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights on election violations.

Read the full position paper here

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