In Baku and Regions, Candidates Struggle to Make Complaints Heard
By Rovshan Ismayilov: 11/04/05

With two days to go before election day, criticism of Azerbaijan’s election campaign continues, with nearly 500 complaints submitted to the Central Election Commission from candidates who say their rights have been violated. Government representatives insist that election commissions will ensure a transparent vote. But a close look at three constituencies – one in Baku, two in the southern region of Lankaran – suggests that conditions for a fair vote are not ideal.

An October 27 interim report on Azerbaijan’s elections from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) focused on violations of the principle of equality between candidates, and the use of official resources to promote certain candidates, among other problem areas. As of late October, the Central Election Commission (CEC) had received 437 candidate complaints about such issues, but had failed to produce decisions on most of them, according to the report.

The claims filed with the Central Election Commission comprise only a small portion of the overall number of complaints. Individual constituency commissions must first sort through candidate complaints themselves and try to solve some of the problems raised. Most complaints to the CEC and constituency election commissions concern the use of official, or administrative, resources by certain candidates and police interference with campaigning. Charges of bribery, often based on so-called charitable activities, are also numerous – as are candidate complaints that their reports of violations of election law are passing unheeded.

To explore these challenges, a EurasiaNet correspondent visited Baku’s #20 Second Narimanov constituency and the #73 and #74 constituencies in the southern region of Lankaran, along the border with Iran.

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The #20 Second Narimanov district in downtown Baku contains a presidential residence, a large shopping center, and heavy traffic, but its claim to fame derives from another source. “This constituency is known as the ‘death zone,’“ said Imran Iskenderov, head of the constituency election commission. “It is true. Candidates are struggling to death.”

With 14 candidates for election, attention could easily focus on the best-known contender, opposition Musavat Party Chairman Isa Gambar, a leader of the tripartite Azadlig election bloc. But the real fight, according to Iskenderov, has little to do with Gambar.

To date, the constituency’s election commission has received about 30 claims from candidates about violations of election rules. “They have no complaints about the constituency commission. Just about each other,” Iskenderov said. “We consider those claims and if there is something serious, send them for further investigation to the district prosecutor’s office.”

Barat Nuriyev, a 52-year-old businessman running as an candidate in the constituency, has filed a complaint about the use of public resources by district police chief Adil Aliyev, a 36-year-old independent candidate for parliament, to further his campaign. Adil Aliyev, who is on leave of absence from his job to run for office, is the brother of Baku police chief, Maharram Aliyev. Nuriyev claims that Adil Aliyev continues to run the constituency’s police department and uses his staff to make trouble for other candidates. Nuriyev, as well as lawyer Aslan Ismayilov, an independent candidate, also allege that employees of the district police office tear down rival candidates’ posters to post pictures of Adil Aliyev in their place.

Aslan Ismaylov said that police have interrupted his meetings with voters several times, but that complaints to the constituency’s election commission – as well as to Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe -- have proven useless. “No one stops this violation [of the election law],” Ismayilov said.

In an interview with EurasiaNet, one candidate went still further in the allegations against Aliyev. Kamil Babayev, an independent candidate and the 45-year-old deputy chairman of the Agridag Charity Society, which represents Azerbaijanis deported from Armenia, claimed that he had received death threats with the demand that he withdrawal in favor of Adil Aliyev. “They [supporters of Adil Aliyev] follow me, I get messages [that] my family is in danger” Babayev said.

The candidate, however, did not specify who delivered the messages or by what means. He says that he did not go to the police with the issue. “You know who is running the police in the district and in the city. Who would I appeal to there? I [instead] informed the organization which has a much more important position,” Babayev said, in reference to the Ministry of National Security.

Aliyev’s campaign manager, Ogtay Sadigzade, has strongly denied all such allegations. “Adil Aliyev is conducting a very positive campaign, working with voters face to face and has never criticized his opponents. He is a respected person and does not need any violation and falsification to win.”

While other candidates make their image known primarily through posters plastered throughout Baku, Aliyev is the only candidate in his constituency to use electronic street ads and to have trucks bearing his posters drive around the constituency. The Aliyev campaign website (http:// www.adilaliyev.az) includes information about his program and life in English, French, Spanish and Arabic, as well as Azeri and Russian. The candidate’s campaign will also run exit polls in up to 12 of the constituency’s polling stations, more than a third of the total, on election day.

Ogtay Sadigzade said that these campaign tools are possible thanks to the contributions of about 500 volunteers who are working on the Aliyev campaign. “Many things [for Aliyev} are just done by volunteers,” he said, adding that he himself had donated his own services as a campaign manager.

Campaign costs have also been relatively limited for Aliyev – another factor that has engendered rivals' suspicion. According to Sadigzade, the contributions of volunteers mean that the campaign has spent a mere $3,250 on the district police chief's campaign. By comparison, Ismayilov has spent about $11,000, most of that money spent on a television spot. Babayev estimates his campaign costs at $12,000. Neither candidate has a campaign manager.

Meanwhile, the complaints by Aliyev’s opponents have been sent to the district prosecutor’s office for verification of the facts. The office has yet to address the matter, according to election commission representatives.

The OSCE/ODIHR report states that “The continuing failure of election commissions and the prosecuting authorities to address or rectify serious violations by executive authorities and candidates has had a marked and negative impact on the election process.» The delays, the report goes on to add, could lead to violations of election legislation.

Asif Yusifov, a member of the constituency election commission representing the Popular Front Party, however, stresses that the commission has not violated election legislation. “All claims are considered and sent further for verification or considering. So far, I did not observe any serious violations.”

As highlighted in the ODIHR report, part of the problem is that no formal procedure yet exists at the CEC for processing such claims.

Once complaints leave #20 Second Narimanov’s election commission office, no mechanism exists to monitor the progress of the complaint in the district prosecutor’s office or the Central Election Commission, however, Yusifov said. “[W]e do not know what happens there [at the CEC and district prosecutor’s office.] Let’s see what happens on election day.”

Other voters are also eager to see the results of election day for Second Narimanov. “I never missed elections in Soviet times. I am not going to miss them now,” said Ismet Aliyev, a 75 –year-old pensioner who lives near the constituency’s Ganjlik subway station, “My son is in Moscow now. I called and asked him to come back and vote in these elections. It should be interesting.”

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About five hours to the south of Baku, in the southern region of Lankaran, similar reported campaign difficulties exist in two constituencies: #73 Lankaran City, the capital of the region, and #74 Lankaran Village. With a population of 150,000, the city of Lankaran, capital of the region, is about 40 kilometers north of the Iranian border.

On October 26, after a long and unsuccessful struggle with local executive authorities and election commissions, 17 out of the 22 candidates from these constituencies sent a letter of complaint to President Ilham Aliyev, Central Election Commission Chairman Mazahir Panahov, and various media and international organizations. The letter charges that Zeynal Nagdaliyev, the head of local government, his staff, Lankaran police and members of both constituencies’ election commissions openly campaign in favor of two candidates: in #73 constituency, Rufat Guliyev, an independent candidate and president of the European Tobacco Company; and in #74 constituency, the incumbent member of parliament and official YAP candidate, Hadi Rajabli.

The candidates claim that the election commissions do not react to “charitable” donations made by Guliyev and Rajabli, such as the repair of roads, a violation of the election code. The two men reportedly are also given a free choice of venues for meeting with candidates, while other candidates see their applications ignored, the letter charges. Lucrative jobs have reportedly been offered to some candidates if they would withdraw in favor of Guliyev, while Zeynal Nagdaliyev is charged with calling people individually to encourage them to vote for Hadi Rajabli, in Lankaran Village. Police are frequently used to disrupt meetings of rival candidates, according to the claimants.

Rufat Guliyev and Hadi Rajabli were reluctant to comment on the allegations mentioned in the letter. Local government head Zeynal Nagdaliyev also refused to meet with a EurasiaNet correspondent.

In statements to the local media, however, both candidates have suggested that the accusations are the result of a slander campaign designed to discredit them as the strongest candidates in their respective constituencies. After President Aliyev’s October 25 decree on inking voters’ fingers and providing for monitoring by foreign non-governmental organizations, Nagdaliyev appeared on local television to state that he would do his best to ensure free and fair elections in Lankaran. “I warned all [regional] executive committee employees not to interfere in the election process,” he said.

The OSCE/ODIHR report states that ”despite the number of cases in which state and local officials appear to have interfered in the election process, no prosecutions have commenced to date.” A “significant number” of candidates have not yet resigned from their official positions to take part in the campaign, the report adds.

Similarly, despite Nagdaliyev’s promise, the candidates who signed the letter of complaint claim that the problems with interference in their campaigns by local authorities still exist. They also say that no reply came to their appeal to the president and chairman of the Central Election Commission. “No reply, no punishments, no preventive measures,” Uzeir Jafarov, an independent candidate in #73 Lankaran City constituency, said.

The presence of three military bases in Lankaran present another challenge for candidates, according to Jafarov. “Defense Minister Safar Abiev gave the order not to allow candidates to campaign there. It means that more than 2,000 votes by officers and soldiers could easily be falsified,” Jafarov said.

Complaints are not limited to opposition and independent candidates. YAP members say they have been unfairly treated, too. Panah Imanov, the official YAP nominee in the #73 constituency, charged during the October television debates that all of the resources of the YAP local office were being diverted to support Rufat Guliyev. Elshad Ibragimov, a YAP member who is running independently in the #74 constituency told EurasiaNet on October 21 that a group of women had tried to disrupt his meetings with voters in Daruba village, and distributed leaflets attacking his candidacy. Ibragimov blames the local office of YAP. “I am a member of YAP. However, I know that party’s local branch is also linked to these provocations.”

The YAP office could not be reached for comment.

Both Imanov and Ibragimov, citing “unbelievable” pressure from the local government, police and ministry of national security, withdrew their candidacies on October 27.

No official response has been made to the charge, but, in general, YAP leaders and law enforcement agency officers have repeatedly stated they do not interfere in the election process, and do not put official, administrative resources to use for YAP candidates.

Like Jafarov, most candidates in the #73 and #74 constituencies say that they do not believe that the upcoming elections in their region will be free and fair; nonetheless, most are keen to continue the race for a seat in parliament. “We need democracy for free elections. But there is no democracy in Azerbaijan, much less in our region,” said Anar Sadikhov, candidate for the YeS bloc.

Editor’s Note: Rovshan Ismayilov is a freelance journalist based in Baku.

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Adil Aliyev, a police official in Baku who is running for parliament as an independent, addresses a crowd at a rally in an old theater in the 20th constituency. The theater's 1,300 seats were filled to capacity. (Yigal Schleifer for Eurasianet)