TODAY.AZ / Politics

PACE Monitoring Committee deeply concerned by political climate in Azerbaijan ahead of November 2005 parliamentary elections

27 April 2005 [17:07] - TODAY.AZ
The Monitoring Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), meeting during the plenary session of the Assembly, today adopted the following declaration:
"Following the recent visit of its co-rapporteurs to Azerbaijan (18-20 April), the Monitoring Committee is deeply concerned by the general political climate in the country. Six months before the holding of the parliamentary elections, some of the basic pre-conditions for holding free and fair elections - freedom of expression and the right to hold peaceful meetings - are not met. The opposition has almost no public means of conveying its message to the electorate. The mutual distrust and accusations are preventing constructive, if any, dialogue.

The latest pardon decree of the President freed the seven political opposition figures and other persons imprisoned in connection with the October 2003 presidential elections as well as most political and some alleged political prisoners. However, these leaders cannot take part in political life since the Supreme Court upheld their sentences.

Television channels still lack pluralism. It is essential that the Public television and the first television channel, which is in the process of privatisation, start operating as genuinely independent broadcasters as soon as possible.

Independent journalists continue to be harassed and - after the murder of one of the most prominent critical journalists Elmar Huseinov - also fear for their lives. The opposition press continue to face difficulties with printing and distribution and are strangled by disproportionately heavy fines.

The committee demands that recent amendments to the Electoral code, which are one of the commitments made by Azerbaijan upon its accession to the Council of Europe, are in line with the joint recommendations of the Council of Europe's Venice Commission and OSCE/ODIHR, especially with regard to the composition of the electoral commissions. It also expects that the restrictions on election observation by foreign-funded NGOs will be abolished.

With the prospect of enormous revenues flowing into the country from the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, and in an environment of wide-spread corruption, the stakes with regard to power and money are very high - and so are the risks of them being defended at any price. Against this background, which hardly resembles that of Georgia and Ukraine, the speculation on both sides with the word 'revolution' can lead to unforeseen consequences.

The committee wishes to stress that these parliamentary elections represent a crucial test for democracy, especially after the fraud and the violence that marred the presidential election in October 2003 and the serious shortcomings of the municipal elections in December 2004.

The committee therefore strongly urges both the authorities and the opposition to assume their responsibilities with regard to the people of Azerbaijan and realise that none of the country's political, economic and social aspirations can be fulfilled without genuinely democratic, free and fair elections. The authorities should also realise that freedom of assembly and of expression are not simply formalistic obligations during a pre-election campaign but principles which have to exist permanently in the everyday life of a democratic country."



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