So much for the secular Republic

Sheikhulisam Allahsukur Pashazade

Sheikhulisam Allahsukur Pashazade

There was considerable astonishment in political circles in Azerbaijan and beyond at a statement issued ahead of the 9 October presidential Elections by representatives of Azerbaijan religious communities, who were gathered together by the senior Muslim Cleric in Azerbaijan, the Chairman of the Board of Caucasian Muslims, Sheikhulislam Allahshukur Pashazade. In the statement the religious leaders called on their people to vote for the incumbent president, Ilham Aliev.

The Azerbaijani news Agency, APA reported on 19 September that “the statement says that despite the separation of religion and state, true believers should not be separated from the motherland: “Believers have begun to live properly after Heydar Aliyev returned to power. Heydar Aliyev felt the essence of Islam and appreciated its role in improving the moral of the people. President Ilham Aliyev is currently continuing the successful path of Heydar Aliyev and has been able to achieve the believers’ sympathy. Muslims, Jews and Christians in Azerbaijan always feel the state care. Ilham Aliyev regards religious tolerance as the biggest boon. As believers, we thank Ilham Aliyev for his care for the believers during his 10-year presidency. We call on our people to vote for Ilham Aliyev in the upcoming presidential elections”.

In many countries interference by religious leaders in elections is illegal, and only in countries like Iran do the clergy play a direct part in politics. Azerbaijani politicians, both pro-government and pro-opposition, often boast about Azerbaijan being a secular republic and such blatant interference, if indeed the statement is accurate, will raise a lot of questions and offer a dangerous precedent. It is also not clear to what extent leaders of other religious denominations acquiesced with the statement.

source CEW with APA

Commentary: Election Monitoring: time to shift the emphasis onto local monitors.

Observers of Transparency International georgia planning election monitoring ahead of the 2012 Parliamentary elections. (picture courtesy of TI Georgia).

Observers of Transparency International Georgia planning election monitoring ahead of the 2012 Parliamentary elections. (picture courtesy of TI Georgia).

There are some who think that the time for large scale international election monitoring is outdated and needs to adapt to the changing circumstances. Smaller teams with more political clout, working closely with local activists may be better placed to focus on what really matters – the substance of whether or not an election has reflected the views of the electorate, and if the conditions existed for those views to be formed in a reasonably free atmosphere. The Georgian Parliamentary Elections in October 2012 proved the effectiveness of domestic election monitoring, which ideally should form the basis for election monitoring. Reports of Election Monitoring Missions often focus on technical aspects of election organisation. Frankly, at least within the OSCE area, after twenty years of experience this should not be an issue at all anymore, and if it is it is best to be dealt with outside the context of election observation. More…

The case of Ilgar Mammedov puts the Council of Europe on the spot.

ilgar mammedov 2The case of Azerbaijani political activist Ilgar Mammedov is fast becoming a test-case of the resilience and integrity of those European institutions that are meant to be the guardians of human rights on the continent. Mammedov was arrested earlier this year after visiting the town of Ismaili at a time when rioting was taking place.  Mammedov is accused of inciting the riot.

Unrests in Ismailli district began on the evening of January 23, after an accident involving the nephew of the head of the local administration Nizami Alekperov, and the son of the Minister of Labor Fizuli Alekperov – Vugar Alekperov, triggering a riot. The participants set fire to a number of commercial entities belonging to officials. Special Forces and internal troops entered the district using rubber bullets and tear gas  There were dozens of arrests and many injured as a result of clashes. Mammedov, who is also Director of the Council of Europe Schgool for Political Studies in Baku and co-Chair of the social movement “Real”, went to Ismaili to investigate the incident and was subsequently arrested and accused of inciting the riot.

His case was raised this week by the Council of Europe, an institution that has traditionally been the beacon of human rights on the continent. Azerbaijan is a member of the Council and will take over its rotating chairmanship in 2014. There is great unease in European circles about the message this will send, and frustration at a deteriorating human rights situation in Azerbaijan at this juncture. More…

Jittery Baku breaks up protest with rubber bullets and water canons.

A protestor being detained in Baku on 10 March 2013. (Picture courtesy of RFE/RL)

A protestor being detained in Baku on 10 March 2013. (Picture courtesy of RFE/RL)

Police tactics in dealing with street protests are often subject to criticism, in democratic countries as much as in totalitarian ones. The use of water cannon and rubber bullets is allowed under standard operating procedures in many countries. Usually it means that either the number of demonstrators was so huge that the police felt that they were losing control and that there was a threat to public order, or that the protest had become violent and there was danger to safety of citizens or property. It could also mean that the police were unprofessional or under instructions to use heavy handed tactics.

The protest held in Baku on 10 March was neither huge nor violent yet the police responded with tear gas, water-canon and rubber bullets, and arrested around eighty protestors.. The use of overwhelming force to break up a protest mainly by young people angry at the number of deaths in the Azerbaijani Army as a result of abuse by senior officers is a sign of the jittery mood in the Azerbaijani leadership ahead of presidential elections in October. The protestors were calling for the resignation of the Defence Minister. Amongst them were relatives of  some of the hundreds soldiers who died in the Azerbaijani military in non combat situations over the last years.

Azerbaijan is at a crossroads. The government has a choice: dialogue and reform or confrontation. It seems it has opted for the latter. If things do not change very fast the October election will be an irrelevance. The squeeze on the opposition continues; a leading Presidential contender, Ilgar Mammedov, is in jail; and the space for peaceful dissent shrinking by the minute. More…

Election Monitoring: Is there a turf war between OSCE structures?


The decision of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Mission monitoring the Armenian Presidential Election last week to issue a separate statement at a separate Press conference from the rest of the joint international monitoring effort raised speculation about differences in the conclusions of the two groups. Asked about this during their Press Conference, the representatives of OSCE/ODIHR downplayed the issue and presented it as more of a technical decision rather than a political one. But was it? A few days later at the General Assembly of the OSCE PA in Vienna it was announced that “a committee of parliamentarians headed by Francois-Xavier de Donnea (MP, Belgium) will have the mandate to negotiate on behalf of the Assembly with the OSCE ODIHR regarding improved co-operation in future election observation missions.”

A statement on the OSCE PA website added: “The OSCE PA and the OSCE/ODIHR previously co-operated under a 1997 agreement that laid out the respective roles for the institutions and clarified that a parliamentarian appointed as special co-ordinator for the election observation mission would deliver the preliminary post-election statement on behalf of the OSCE. In December, after repeated challenges to that agreement that undermined appointed special co-ordinators, President Riccardo Migliori with support of the OSCE PA Bureau, declared the agreement no longer operable.”

There have been rumors for a number of years of problems between OSCE ODIHR and OSCE PA on election monitoring. For the sake of the credibility of the process this discussion now needs to be conducted with maximum transparency. More…

Georgia: Oh so democratic!

scuffles outside national library in GeorgiaGeorgian civil society organisations had tough words for politicians following incidents at a protest in front of the National Library where President Saakashvili was due to speak. The International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy, Transparency International – Georgia, Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association and the Open Society – Georgia Foundation condemned the acts of violence that ensued. In their statement the four NGOs said

“We believe that the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia has failed to take preventive measures in an effective manner to avoid injuring of guests of the event. The situation could only be de-escalated after the Interior Minister arrived at the scene. It is clearly a positive fact that the minister personally got involved in the developments; however, we believe that the Interior Ministry has failed to plan adequate measures for ensuring safety of participants, resulting in the necessity to postpone the presidential address.” The NGOs warned that “freedom of assembly and expression is one of the most important values of a democratic society but it must be realized within the legal constraints. We understand that some people have been suffering from the sense of injustice for over the years; nevertheless, this may not justify such illegal acts.”