Azerbaijan: Election Results Finalized, But Tensions Simmer On
BY ROVSHAN ISMAYILOV

Azerbaijan’s Central Election Commission sent final results for the country’s November 6 parliamentary elections to the country’s Constitutional Court for validation, but several sources suggest that further changes to the tally could be in the offing.

The results were submitted just days ahead of a November 26 opposition protest that was forcibly dispersed by police. [See related EurasiaNet story]. Responding to the crackdown, opposition leaders say they will consider taking more radical measures, and moving beyond the courts to dispute the election results.

According to the official results, the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan party (YAP) will again enjoy a parliamentary majority with 58 seats out of the 121 that have been determined. The tripartite bloc Azadlig (Freedom), the largest opposition election alliance, received only eight seats. The opposition Yeni Sisayet (YeS – New Policy) alliance, Civil Solidarity and Ana Vatan Parties each won two seats; the opposition Liberal Party, Democratic Reforms Party, Umid Party, United Popular Front Party, Great Creation Party, Social Prosperity Party, and Civil Unity Party each secured one seat in parliament. Independents without formal party affiliation comprise the remainder of the 121 final results. Four additional parliamentary contests have yet to be resolved. In all, 55 incumbent MPs were re-elected.

New votes are to be organized in four constituencies after CEC officials cancelled the November 6 results in those electoral districts. The four constituencies that will hold new elections are: #9 Second Binagadi; #110 Zagatala; #42 Sumgayit; and #38 Second Nizami.

Recounts in two other constituencies -- #8 First Binagadi and #31 Second Surakhani -- led to opposition candidates being declared the winners. Results in more than 300 precincts have also been cancelled, however without any impact on the constituencies’ official results.

The Constitutional Court has 10 days to validate the results. If the results for any constituencies are considered to require additional investigation, the Court may extend this deadline. However, the first sitting of the new parliament has already been scheduled for December 10.

Azerbaijan’s two main opposition alliances, Azadlig (comprising the Musavat Party, Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan and the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan) and YeS, along with the Civil Solidarity Party and the Liberal Party of Azerbaijan have refused to recognize the results and have demanded fresh elections.

To promote that message, the opposition has held four rallies in Baku and several in the regions since the November 6 vote. On November 16, a forum of more than 550 candidates who support the opposition’s demands for a new vote took place in Baku. YAP responded three days later with its own forum of 600 candidates who are content with how the elections were run.

After an initial November 7 report from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Election Observation Mission called the vote counting process in more than 40 percent of the precincts “bad” or “very bad,” speculation grew that the CEC would reconsider the results in a much larger number of constituencies. President Ilham Aliyev responded by sacking the governors of the Zagatala, Surakhani and Sabirabad regions and ordering a thorough investigation of reported fraud. Two constituency election commission chairpersons and two precinct commission heads have been arrested for alleged election law violations. On November 24, the CEC announced that nine Baku and regional election commissions will be completely reformed; opposition representatives, however, have demanded a shake-up of election commissions at all levels, including the CEC.

Negotiations between the authorities and opposition under international mediation had fuelled expectations that the opposition would secure a larger representation in parliament. In an interview with EurasiaNet, Ali Hasanov, chief of the presidential administration’s political department, said that 15-20 percent of the election results could be reconsidered by the CEC. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive.]

The OSCE’s chief representative in Baku said international scrutiny will now focus on the Constitutional Court to see if additional election results will be questioned.“The Constitutional Court should consider the results, and believe me, something may change there,” Ambassador Mauricio Pavesi said on November 26.

A source in the presidential administration, who spoke on condition of anonymity, stated that the results validated by the Constitutional Court will be different than those submitted to the Court by the CEC. “However, one should not expect such a big number as 20 percent,” the source said.

Opposition leaders believe their candidates won at least 45 constituencies. They promise to boycott parliament if the election tallies are not changed “in accordance with the real vote results.” Six of the opposition candidates who won seats, including Liberal Party Chairperson Lala Shovket, Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan Chairman Ali Kerimli and People’s Party Chairman Panah Huseynov signed a statement on November 16 that confirmed that they will boycott parliament if the general election results are not reconsidered.

Immediately after the violent break-up of the November 26 protest, Shovket vowed that the opposition will continue its struggle by political and legal means. That appears to mean both courts and, potentially, a new political party. “The creation of the Azadlig bloc is the main result of this campaign, and we will strengthen the alliance by switching it from a pre-election bloc to a long-term political force,” Elman Salayev, deputy chairman of the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan, told EurasiaNet on November 27. On the table are ideas ranging from establishment of a broad-based civil movement to creation of a so-called “super” party. Discussions are also underway about activities outside of Baku, and stepping up the work of party field offices “for attracting more people’s support,” Salayev said. The opposition will take its claims about the election results to the European Court of Human Rights if necessary, he added.

About 600 claims from different candidates have been submitted to various courts and governmental agencies for consideration. The CEC elected to reconsider results in more than 300 precincts, but rejected additional claims as “insufficient.” Court cases have also been rejected. One Azadlig lawyer, Vugar Shikhli, commented that the claims have been ignored in many cases, while others were not thoroughly and fairly examined by the CEC and courts.

CEC Chairman Mazahir Panahov refuted the opposition’s allegations on November 23, saying; “The CEC carefully considered all complaints and appeals and took . . . decisions on all of them.”

Baku Deputy Police Chief Yashar Aliyev said that the police will urge the city government not to authorize additional opposition rallies. The city’s Galaba Square, the only place sanctioned for political rallies, is now surrounded by barbed wire and guarded by security forces.

For supporters reluctant to take part in demonstrations, some opposition leaders have proposed that they instead switch off their lights at home each night starting from 8pm on November 28. “By switching off electricity, people may demonstrate their solidarity with our struggle for democracy,” Musavat Party leader Isa Gambar said on November 23.

Meanwhile, opposition leaders are expressing increasing dissatisfaction with the support they have received from the West for their campaign for fresh elections. “Starting from tomorrow, we will conduct a very serious monitoring of the reaction of countries, calling themselves democratic, to the brutal dispersal of a peaceful demonstration,” Ali Kerimli told a November 26 news conference. “We demand a tough and clear reaction from the international community.”

The OSCE Election Observation Mission is expected to produce its final report in mid- December. In a statement released on November 28, the OSCE argued that “the principle of defending public order cannot be used to justify police violence, in particular when the demonstrators have not actually disturbed the public order but are in violation of administrative decisions.”

In January 2006 the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) will consider Azerbaijan’s parliamentary elections and vote on admitting a new Azerbaijani delegation to PACE.

To date, PACE representatives have been relatively harsh in their assessments of the November 6 poll. “The CEC jumped to final conclusions. They had to consider all claims [about disputed seats] more carefully,” Andreas Herkel, a co-rapporteur for the PACE Monitoring Committee on Azerbaijan, said in a November 24 interview with the Russian-language daily newspaper Echo. In a November 25 interview with the Turan news agency, co-rapporteur Andreas Gross said that the mission will travel to Baku before the Constitutional Court validates the results to avoid a “worst-case scenario.”

“We will do our best to avoid bigger mistakes and support the process of democracy building,” Gross said.

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

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