November 16, 2005

Clues from Azerbaijan on EU Elections Monitoring

The major innovation in the upcoming Dec. 4th parliamentary elections is the presence of an EU monitoring mission in Venezuela. How tough will the new observers be? Hopefully, at least as tough as the OSCE mission the EU sent to monitor parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan last week.

From Radio Free Europe

November 7th, 2005
OSCE, EU Question Azerbaijani Vote

Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said today that parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan that culminated in yesterday's voting failed to meet several international standards, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reported.

The OSCE's election-observation mission noted some improvements in the way the election was run, but it said the shortcomings that were observed led the mission to believe that the election "did not meet a number of OSCE commitments and Council of Europe standards for democratic elections."

The international observers in Baku said the elections' shortcomings included, among other things, a faulty count of the ballots and interference by local authorities.

Citing alleged massive irregularities, opposition representatives have said they it will not recognize the outcome of the vote. The opposition has called on its supporters to hold a peaceful march in Baku tomorrow.

Meanwhile, EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said earlier today that she regrets reports of electoral violations in Azerbaijan's legislative elections.

"While we are still not knowing all elements in order to draw our conclusions, we understand there are reports of some violations of election procedures and also of the rights of opposition candidates that have been occurring throughout the country, especially in provincial and rural areas," Ferrero-Waldner said.

So that's a fairly tough assessment. In its preliminary document on the conduct of the elections, published just a day after the voting, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, in charge of running the EU monitoring mission, noted the following shortcomings:

  • Local executive authorities often interfered in the campaign and failed to act impartially, and were regarded by many as serving only the interests of pro-government candidates;

  • No effective sanctions were imposed on representatives of local executive authorities who, in violation of the law, interfered in the election process, diminishing confidence in the rule of law;

  • The composition of election commissions favored pro-government candidates, at times undermining confidence in the independence and impartiality of the election administration;

  • Restrictive interpretations of campaign provisions and pressure on an independent TV channel limited voters’ access to diverse information;

  • The CEC and constituency election commissions (ConECs) generally failed to address a number of issues in an effective manner, such as the use of voter cards, military voting and the handling of complaints;

  • There was a lack of uniformity in updating voter lists and issuance of voter cards;

  • At least 38 constituencies deviate from legal norms regarding the number of registered voters per constituency.

  • On the inside pages of the OSCE preliminary report, we find bits like:
    There are still shortcomings in the legal framework that have had an adverse effect on the conduct of the elections. The composition of election commissions favors the incumbent authorities and undermines confidence in the independence of the election administration. The provision for voter cards would only be effective if there was strict control and accountability in their distribution.

    The OSCE/ODIHR Elections Observation Mission observed cases of abuse of administrative resources such as the use of offices, vehicles and employees for campaign purposes.

    In its prime time news and current affairs programs, the AzTV (Azerbaijan's VTV) demonstrated clear bias. Media monitoring results show that in the eight weeks preceding the election, AzTV provided 97 percent of its political and election prime time news coverage to the activities of the President, the presidential administration, the government and the YAP. This coverage was overwhelmingly positive in tone. In contrast, the news programs on AzTV largely ignored activities of opposition candidates. Thus, AzTV failed to meet its legal obligation to create equal conditions for the candidates and political parties. No legal sanctions were imposed on AzTV.

    There was a presence of candidate representatives and non-partisan domestic observers in nearly all polling stations visited. However, there were observations of domestic observers and PEC members being expelled or dismissed from polling stations. The international elections observation mission observed local executive officials and observers of YAP candidates interfering in or directing the process, or otherwise attempting to influence voters. The presence of video cameras filming voting and, in some instances, individuals - including exit pollsters in some cases - attempting to influence voter choices or identify voters with their votes, appeared intimidating to voters.

    Overall, I think if the EU brings this level of scrutiny to the Dec. 4th election, CNE has something to worry about.