Ganja Voters Hope for Chance for Real
By Jahan Aliyeva: 11/06/05
Election day got off to a bad start for Gasimova Saida,
after the 46-year-old resident of Ganja, Azerbaijans
second largest city, failed to find the names of her relatives
on voter lists in the citys #38 constituency. I
do not trust such a democracy any more, Saida declared.
They did it on purpose.
Incomplete voting lists are a long-time problem for Azerbaijani
elections, but, as an inspection of two constituencies in
Ganja, a city of about 330,000, showed, they are far from
unique. Charges of ballot box irregularities and pressure
being placed on candidates to withdraw or on voters to support
individual candidates favored by the city government were
The charges took on particular poignancy in this northern
city, a long-term bastion of the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan
Party (YAP). YAP and the administration of President Ilham
Aliyev have repeatedly stressed their commitment to free
and fair elections. International organizations have been
encouraged by the presidents last, October 25 election
decree authorizing vote monitoring by foreign-funded non-governmental
organizations and the use of ink on voter fingers to prevent
multiple voting. The decree has been welcomed as a sign
that the government intended to follow through on its pledge
to hold transparent elections.
Referring to the presidents decrees on holding democratic
elections, government and election commission representatives
in Ganja have strongly denied the charges of deliberate
meddling in the vote or of taking measures to influence
But their statements have done little to reassure Saida.
[The polling station officials] were ordered to do
everything possible in favor of the candidates who are supported
by the government of Ganja, Saida said. I am
sure [President] Ilham Aliyev does not know about the falsifications
in Ganja she added.
Ramiz Guliyev, chief of the # 38 constituency election commission,
stated that the problem had more to do with identity documents
than orders from Ganja authorities, however. By mid-afternoon
on November 6, more than 100 voters had already complained
that they could not find their names on voter lists, he
As usual, people do not change their IDs when
they move to other apartments. Many voters got the new identification
cards a little before election day, which means that with
their new ID cards, they registered in the [polling] places
where they live now, Guliyev said. Each constituency
prepared a list of voters one month, even two months ago.
Thats why it led today to a mess in the lists.
About 150,000 voters were registered to take part in the
elections in Ganja.
As the day proceeded, however, voter list problems in the
#38 constituency were bypassed by a fresh problem: a claim
of an attempt at stuffed ballot boxes.
Hidayet Eminbeyli, an observer from the opposition Taraggi
(Progress) Party in the constituencys 8th polling
station told journalists that he had witnessed a member
of the electoral commission try to throw 140 ballots into
a box of ballots for one candidate. After other candidates
from the constituency began to arrive at the polling station,
voting at the 8th polling station stopped for half an hour
while polling officials corrected the problem.
The May 11 presidential decree [on holding free and
fair elections] is being violated in this station,
said Eminbeyli. It is absolutely unfair and not a
Constituency election commission chief Zakir Huseynnov stated
that the problem had been prevented in time
and that the head of the polling station would be
asked to explain what happened.
In another constituency, #37, slightly different reactions
prevailed. Andreas Gross, rapporteuer for the Parliamentary
Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), told EurasiaNet
that he had not observed any violations after six and a
half hours of monitoring at #18 polling station. Gross added,
however, that the polling stations cramped quarters
make it hard to observe the whole process from every
corner of the polling station.
One candidate commented that Grosss presence in the
polling station likely had an effect on the transparency
of the voting process. Its impossible to have
100 Andreas Grosses at each polling station in order to
have a democratic and transparent voting process,
said Chingiz Mammadov, an independent candidate in Ganjas
Mammadov took issue with ballots not being kept in chronological
order a situation that provides a chance for election
officials to falsify ballots, he claimed.
The election campaign in #37 constituency has been far from
controversy-free. Many local observers and journalists say
that each constituency in Ganja has a favorite candidate
supported by the city government.
Tahmina Tagiyeva, a local journalist in Ganja, said employees
of hospitals and secondary schools have stated, on condition
of anonymity, that local government officials call staff
members and urge them to vote for candidates supported by
the city government. Among the reported incentives: alleged
payments of 50,000 manats (about $11) to city health department
employees in return for voting for Aydin Abbasov, son of
Azerbaijans deputy prime minister, and a Yeni Azerbaijan
Party candidate in the #37 constituency.
Journalists say that Abbasov was also accused of having
renovated the roofs of secondary schools #2 and #23 to gain
votes. The citys education department has denied these
Akif Alesgerov, deputy head of Ganjas governing executive
committee, echoed those denials, telling EurasiaNet that
it is all rumors spread by certain groups.
The executive committee does not have enough funds
to distribute such amounts of money. We are busy and doing
everything in accordance with the presidential decree of
11 May, Alesgerov said
Meanwhile, residents of Ganja have come up with their own
analysis of the citys election day woes. We,
the voters, are being made to feel satisfied at every election,
but no one cares for us otherwise, taxi driver Azad
Novruzov said. Enough is enough. This is our chance
to hold real elections,
Editor's Note: Jahan Aliyeva is a freelance journalist
based in Baku.
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