TODAY.AZ / Politics

OSCE Election Observation Mission publishes its third report on Azerbaijan

29 October 2005 [12:29] - TODAY.AZ
The OSCE Election Observation Mission (EOM) published its third report.

The report says that 437 complaints have been registered thus far by CEC concerning violations and interference by local executive authorities and other state bodies in the election process. CEC has only issued a handful of decisions on the 437 complaints it has registered.

The Observation Mission reported that the authorities have now accepted an offer from the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission for guidance and assistance with complaints. EOM also noted in its report that CEC continues to hold sessions regularly, but the working atmosphere and collegiality of its sessions have been deteriorating. Inconsistent and poor application of the law was observed in relation to voter card issues, military voting, and complaints. OSCE EOM has received inconsistent and conflicting data from CEC on updating of voter lists and voter cards.

There are delays and failures in distribution of new ID and voter cards, too. Candidates continue to hold numerous rallies across the country, but the campaign has been marred by widespread police arrests and intimidation of opposition party members and supporters. Restrictions by government and local executive authorities on freedom of assembly continue. In the demonstrations held in Baku on 9 October, EOM observed numerous instances where the police and security forces used disproportionate force against demonstrators and journalists.

The opposition parties published the names of more than 100 persons who were detained at the rally and reported that 55 persons were injured. Reports of services or goods provided free of charge by candidates are frequent. Candidates finance asphalting of roads, residential renovations or host traditional Ramadan-season charitable dinners (“iftars”) in their constituency.

On 21 October, the Constitutional Court overturned a CEC decision which had cancelled the registration of Hajiaga Nuri. The Islamic party Hajiagha Nuri is the chairman of has been denied state registration from the Ministry of Justice. A significant number of candidates have not resigned from official duties. The expected return of the Democratic Party Chairman Rasul Guliyev on 17 October triggered a major national security operation.

The Minister of Interior accused “the radical opposition” of planning to use force against the security forces and numerous nationwide arrests took place. The Minister of Interior acknowledged that approximately 80 – 100 persons were detained, while other sources reported hundreds of detentions. In Baku, at least 30 persons who had come to the airport to greet Mr. Guliyev were sentenced to imprisonment for resisting police instructions under the Administrative Code. The government defended its actions as necessary to prevent a coup d’etat.

In the immediate aftermath of the 17 October events, the Minister of Economic Development and the Minister of Health have been removed from their posts and arrested on suspicion of plotting a forcible seizure of power. A former Minister of Finance had been arrested on similar charges and for financing unauthorized opposition rallies. The intimidation of R.Guliyev’s supporters continued after October 17, too. In a serious incident, on October 19, the opposition leader Isa Gambar was stopped by the police in Aghstafa region, when he tried to visit of a memorial to veterans of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, allegedly because it was not on the schedule of his campaign tour.

Though the State-funded TV channels monitored by the OSCE/ODIHR EOM continue to distribute free airtime equally to the four major political parties and blocs, their prime time news favored incumbent political authority. In the first six weeks of the campaign, AzTV provided 97 percent of its political and election prime time news coverage to the activities of the incumbent President, the government, the presidential administration and the YAP party.

In so doing, AzTV has thus far not met its obligation under the Election Code and OSCE commitments to create equal conditions for the candidates and political parties. On October 17, AzTV suspended live airtime for candidates of the “Azadliq” bloc for three days. Public TV, however, continues to offer its viewers more political information than AzTV. Privately owned Lider TV, Space TV and ATV demonstrate a pattern of political favoritism very similar to the one of Public TV.

ANS remains the only TV station to provide a generally more balanced coverage of the campaign. Similarly to the other broadcasters monitored by EOM, this station devoted most of its prime time news coverage to the incumbent government. State-funded newspapers continue to provide free and paid advertising space to candidates, but remain openly biased towards incumbent political autority.

For example, “Azerbaijan” paper allocated 90 percent of its political and election coverage to the incumbent authority. The two other monitored State-funded newspapers, “Respublika” and “Khalq Gazeti”, adopted a similar pattern. “Zerkalo” paper has so far offered a more balanced picture of the election campaign. It was also reflected in the report that a journalist of “Zerkalo” clearly identified by his blue Press jacket had been attacked by unknown persons in the 9 October opposition rally.



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