“The National Council”, Azerbaijan’s Opposition umbrella body, outlines requirements ahead of elections.

“The National Council”, Azerbaijan’s umbrella opposition organisation, has outlined what it considers to be the necessary minimum conditions for credible elections to take place in the country. In a report published on Tuesday (18 August) the Council analysis the current political conditions and sets out four demands which it considers necessary for free and fair elections to be held.

The demands include the release of political prisoners and end of political repression; an end to restrictions on the freedom of assembly; a halt to pressure on journalists and free air time on television for political parties; and changes to the composition of the election commissions and guarantees of a fair electoral process during voting and counting.

The report of the “National Council” whilst confirming its willingness to participate in the political process, leaves some questions as to whether it will participate in the forthcoming parliamentary elections if these conditions are not met. It calls on the government to create the right conditions for the elections by implementing its demands

source: CEW

Photo: Leaders of the “National Council”, including Council Chairman Camil Hassanli and Popular Front leader, Ali Kerimli, at a meeting at the international Press Club in Baku (Archive Picture).

After problematic election, Azerbaijan remains stuck in a twilight zone between democracy and authoritarianism.

Commentary.

The Presidential election held in Azerbaijan on 9 October, and the political situation that emerges as a result of it, can be summed up in one word: problematic. That this election failed in some respects from meeting widely accepted international standards is clear to those who want to make a dispassionate assessment. Some problems observed in all elections that have taken place in Azerbaijan in the last decade have persisted, and the leadership of the Central Elections Commission, which has remained largely unchanged for the whole period, seems unwilling or unable to correct them.

Context, process and outcome.

The context in which the election was held was far from ideal. The reports of organisations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, the terse but clear concerns expressed by the leadership of the European Union, and the concerns of big sections of the international media, may have been dismissed lightly by the Azerbaijani authorities, but in their totality they provide a negative picture of the context in which the election was held that is serious enough to impact the evaluation of the event on 9 October itself. There was some improvement in the situation in the three week run up to the election which saw the opposition allowed to voice its opinions on national television and to mobilise in the streets.

There were also other issues worth noting, for example the odd way in which the incumbent Ilham Aliev decided to run his campaign, and the late but effective way in which the opposition managed to rally around the candidacy of Camil Hasanly. Hasanly himself gave his all, and was more effective than many had thought he would be. The opposition however failed to mobilise a critical mass for its activities. Part of this was due to the opposition’s own limitations, and part due to the very clear dangers faced by those who publicly associate themselves with the opposition. There is however another factor at play which the opposition with its rhetoric seems to have failed to understand: most Azerbaijanis, regardless of whether they like Aliev or not, do not want to go back to the chaos of the 1990s. Whilst the government cleverly plays on this feeling, the opposition seems to be oblivious to its importance.

Shortcomings in the election process itself were noted, and will no doubt be the subject of reporting by the more credible election monitoring organisations. The attitude of the CEC to be meticulous where its suits it, and brush aside serious shortcomings when it does not, contributes to the undermining of trust in the process.

The provisional result of the election gives the incumbent President 84.73% of the vote with a 72.31% voter turnout. Given the context and the process this result, which in any normal election context would be considered exaggerated, may not be the most contentious part of the outcome. A victory for Ilham Aliev with a wide margin was anticipated and predicted. The pattern of what happened on election-day and in the counting process in this, as in previous elections in Azerbaijan, was chequered.

A twilight zone that has become a comfort zone.

The result of all this is an unsatisfactory outcome. The Azerbaijani authorities have over the last decade positioned themselves in a twilight zone between democracy and authoritarianism. This election proves what some had been worrying about for some time, that this twilight zone has now become the authorities comfort zone. However this election has in many ways proven that this situation is not sustainable. President Aliev will now have to decide very soon in which direction he wants to take his country. His speech on election night gives us little indication of what his choice will be. But once the dust of the election campaign has settled down, there will be important and crucial decisions to make that will define his place in Azerbaijani history.

Source: CEW editorial team

Camil Hasanli: the unlikely “man on the white horse”.

A cartoon of Camil Hassanli slaying a hydra-headed monster representing the other presidential candidates that have ganged up against him has caught the imagination of people.

A cartoon of Camil Hassanli slaying a hydra-headed monster representing the other presidential candidates that have ganged up against him has caught the imagination of people.

In Azerbaijan’s tightly managed political and media environment it is not often that a person emerges from the shadows to steal the limelight and catch the imagination of people. Yet this is what a University History professor in his seventies has been able to do over the last weeks since he unexpectedly was chosen as a last minute substitute to represent the opposition “National Council of Democratic Forces” in the Presidential elections that are due in a few days time.

Camil Hasanli had never been in front-line politics before, but had within academic and intellectual circles a reputation as an honest and intellectual person of integrity. Few thought that he had the attributes necessary for the rough and tumble of Azerbaijani politics. Yet over a short period of time, and thanks mainly to a window of opportunity provided by the election campaign which gave him a few minutes of exposure on national television, Hasanli grew in stature by the minute. It was not only his own tough and uncompromising statements in which he lambasted the government for incompetence and corruption that earned him accolades, but also the fact that most of the other candidates in the election preferred to gang up against him. With a cool panache Hasanli saw them off one by one. More…

“The National Council is a qualitatively different structure.”

Murad Gassanly

Murad Gassanly

CEW interviewed Murad Gassanly, the official representative of the Chairman of Azerbaijani National Council of Democratic Forces in the United Kingdom, about the plans of the opposition and the situation around the elections in Azerbaijan:

Q1: It seems that the opposition in Azerbaijan has been able for the first time to unite behind a single candidate and political platform ahead of the forthcoming Presidential elections. How important is this step? To what extent has compromise been necessary, and possible?

This is indeed an unprecedented development in Azerbaijani politics – all major political parties, organisations and civil society groups are united within the framework of the National Council, and a common candidate has been chosen to represent the democratic movement in this election. There have been previous attempts to unite the opposition but the National Council is a qualitatively different structure. More…

Analysis: “The current political situation in Azerbaijan should not be interpreted simplistically.”

Dennis Sammut

Dennis Sammut

Ahead of Presidential Elections in Azerbaijan, political analyst Dennis Sammut looks at the background to the current political situation and the likely post-election scenario.

Many consider that the result of the presidential elections due to be held in Azerbaijan on 9 October is a foregone conclusion. Some polls commissioned by pro-government sources are already predicting that 90% of those voting will cast their ballot in favour of the incumbent President Ilham Aliev. The opposition claims, and many international observers agree, that the political space for those opposing the  government in Azerbaijan is narrower now than at any time since the collapse of the USSR, of which Azerbaijan was one of the constituent republics.

So why is the government, the opposition, the international community and others bothering to go through the motions of having an election, and of engaging with it in different ways? The answer is that there is a political debate and process going on in Azerbaijan, in public, but mostly under the surface. The Presidential election is not the most important part of it by far, but with all its shortcomings it is still an essential piece of the jigsaw for both government and opposition. More…

The Election Manifesto of Camil Hassanli, the candidate of the National Council of Democratic Forces

Camil Hasanli

Camil Hasanli

The Election Manifesto of Camil Hassanli, the candidate of the National Council of Democratic Forces  (full text)

This Manifesto sets out the policies, plans and commitments of Azerbaijani National Council of Democratic Forces, and its single, united candidate in the presidential elections of 2013. This Manifesto is drawn up in order to facilitate a free and fair pre-election environment; to create conditions for a truly competitive, democratic contest; to ensure that the rule of law and democratic principles are the basis of political power in Azerbaijan; and to achieve constructive cooperation between different political and public organizations. More…