1. What is the significance of Azerbaijan's November 6, 2005 parliamentary election?
The crackdown on opposition activists that followed the country's 2003 presidential elections, and recent revolutions in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan explain much of the international interest. The Council of Europe has stated that the vote will "show whether Azerbaijan can be a democratic state or not." The election will feature the country's first broad opposition alliance and an unprecedented number of candidates.
2. Have complaints raised by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe about the 2003 presidential elections been addressed?
Some election results were cancelled, but the opposition and government could not agree on responsibility for the violent clashes that swept Baku following the elections. Nor were reports of election fraud jointly investigated. In 2005 imprisoned opposition activists were released from prison, but most of their convictions still stand. Recommendations on election commissions' make-up and safeguards against multiple voting have been rejected. In a May 11 decree, however, President Ilham Aliyev has promised to provide for a free and fair parliamentary vote.
3. How is the parliament formed? How much power does the parliament actually have?
The 2002 constitutional reforms provided for Azerbaijan's entire 125-seat parliament to be elected on a single-mandate system. The constitution names the parliamentary speaker as the third most important state figure, after the president and prime minister, however, so far, the parliament does not enjoy considerable power. Members of parliament (MPs) do not have the right to appoint or fire government ministers or judges. The legislature appoints the prime minister based on the president's nomination. A presidential impeachment procedure exists but is highly complicated. According to internal parliamentary rules, legislators cannot change the contents of draft laws proposed by the president, who initiates the most important bills. Parliament's most influential role comes in its ability to approve or reject the state budget, but, so far, no state budget has ever been rejected or amended.
4. How many candidates will be taking part? How easy was it for opposition candidates to register?
As of October 28, 1,713 candidates were registered for the parliamentary elections. Any Azerbaijani citizen over the age of 25 can take part. Unlike previous elections, opposition candidates did not face any reported difficulties with registration.
5. Which party has the most candidates?
The ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party (YAP) has the largest number: 256 candidates. The opposition Liberal Party is second, with 62 candidates. However, YAP is officially promoting only 89 of its candidates. The rest are running independently. At 114, the tripartite opposition bloc Azadlig bloc has the highest number of officially promoted candidates.
6. Which opposition parties are running the most candidates?
The Liberal Party of Azerbaijan has the highest number: 62 candidates. The opposition Popular Front Party, a member of the Azadlig alliance, has 49 candidates; the National Independence Party, a member of the Yeni Siyaset Bloc, and the Musavat Party, another Azadlig member, have 51 and 43, respectively. Azadlig, which also includes the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan, is running 114 officially promoted candidates, the highest number of any party or bloc.
7. Why are so many independent candidates taking part?
Over half of the registered candidates are running as non-partisans (811 candidates) or as party members who are running their own, independent campaigns (112 candidates). Many politicians and ordinary citizens believe that international pressure and pledges by President Ilham Aliyev will ensure relatively free and fair elections. Consequently, they have decided to test their chances. Some of those who are running are truly non-partisan. Others are members of political parties, who, for various reasons, could not get official party promotion.
8. What are the rules governing campaign rallies?
Both Azerbaijan's election code and President Aliyev's May 11 decree on the elections require that equal opportunities be provided for all political parties and candidates to meet with voters and hold campaign activities. Parties are required to apply to the Central Election Commission for a guarantee of security at any rally. If the Commission finds that it cannot guarantee citizens' security, it can ban the rally. Central Election Commission Chairman Mazahir Panahov has said that protest actions cannot be considered campaign rallies since they do not promote parties or candidates.
9. Does the government provide candidates with free airtime on television?
According to the election code, only political parties and blocs who are running more than 60 registered candidates can get free airtime on state and public television. Independent candidates and parties with less than 60 candidates receive no free airtime on state television - a cause of much complaint. Only four parties and blocs have free airtime: YAP, the opposition Azadlig and YeS blocs and the Liberal Party.
10. What are the rules governing candidate or party use of the media?
The election code states that all candidates should be provided with equal access to the media. State-owned media outlets are obliged to provide free airtime or advertising space to alliances or parties, which have more than 60 registered candidates. Advertisements must be offered for the same price, amount of time or page space. All price lists should be public and no advertisement inside a news program is allowed. However, television news contains a lot of hidden advertising; politically themed concerts are represented as entertainment. The Najaf Najafov Foundation, a local non-governmental organization sponsored by the US Agency for International Development, has named the state-owned AzTV1 channel has the most frequent violator.
11. What are the start and stop times for voting on November 6?
Voting starts at 8 am (5am GMT) and ends at 7 pm (4pm GMT). After 7 pm, all polling stations throughout the country will be closed and the counting process will start.
12. Are electronic ballots or paper ballots being used?
Only paper ballots will be used.
13. How many election observers will be taking part? What are the rules for selection and participation of observers?
As of October 31, the Central Election Commission had registered 11,616 local obeservers and 1,060 international observers. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Election Observation Mission, the Council of Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States are among the largest delegations. Foreign citizens must be officially invited to be observers by the Central Election Commission, parliament or the Foreign Ministry, or by an international organization.
Any Azerbaijani citizen is eligible to be an observer. Political parties, blocs and independent candidates also can nominate their observers with the same procedure.
14. Will monitors from opposition political parties also be allowed inside polling places?
Yes. Opposition parties can have monitors. If they have received a CEC observer's identity card, they are allowed inside all polling stations and constituencies throughout the country. So far, no problems with this process have occurred.
15. When will election results be announced?
According to the election code, the Central Election Commission must announce the preliminary results and publish them on the CEC website ( http://www.cec.gov.az/) within 48 hours of the end of voting. The CEC must announce the final results and the results must be validated by the Constitutional Court within 45 days of election day, or no later than December 21, 2005.
16. Who makes up the Central Election Commission?
The Central Election Commission is made up of 15 representatives. The term of the current commissioners will end on November 13, one week after the November 6 parliamentary elections. The CEC has six representatives from the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party, six opposition representatives (three nominated by the parliamentary opposition - Popular Front, Civil Solidarity and Communist Parties; three nominated by four non-parliamentary opposition parties, Musavat Party, Democratic Party, Liberal Party and the National Independence Party) , and three non-partisans nominated by independent members of parliament members.
17. What is the procedure for counting and recording votes?
Each constituency contains approximately 30 polling stations, each with its own six-member election commission. There is also a nine-member election commission for the constituency. At the conclusion of voting, each polling station election commission will start to count votes. They will then send a protocol with the results to the constituency election commission. The constituency election commission tallies up all polling stations' results and sends the final results to the Central Election Commission, which announces the official results.
18. What is the procedure for contesting a vote?
If candidates or parties have objections to the preliminary results announced by the CEC, they can apply to the Court of Appeal for a ruling. The court has to make a decision within three days of receiving the application. The court has the right to cancel results in any constituency.
19. What is the significance of the exit polls being conducted?
President Ilham Aliyev's May 11 decree on the parliamentary elections called for exit polls to be held and their results used as a check against official results. Presidential administration representatives and the Central Election Commission have stated that a discrepancy between official and exit poll results in excess of 6 percent will prompt an investigation of the relevant polling station. However, no specification has been made about which exit poll results will be compared with official results.
20. Who will be running the exit polls? How many constituencies do they cover?
The US Agency for International Development is funding an exit poll by PA Government Services which will cover 15 polling stations in each of 65 constituencies out of 125 total. Two other companies are also conducting exit polls: The American company Mitofsky International, which plans to question voters in more than 1,500 polling stations of all 125 constituencies, and the Estonian company Saar Poll, which intends to cover more than 1,000 polling stations in all 125 constituencies. The Mitofsky poll is funded by the Swiss company Renaissance; Saar Poll's client is Santo Communications, a British financial firm, according to the pollster.