International Election Observers: Azerbaijani Parliamentary Elections “Free, Transparent, Democratic”

Azerbaijan’s parliamentary elections concluded yesterday, and the tentative vote tallies show the New Azerbaijan Party (the incumbent, governing party) holding its majority, with independent-but-aligned candidates bolstering that majority. Yet while election results are important — they are how a country is governed — the process by which they are obtained is at least as important. Here, by all accounts, Azerbaijan has done well, and moreover, has improved.

The Parliamentary Assembly for the Council of Europe (PACE) observation mission praised the election-day procedures as transparent and open. The mission reached a consensus that the voting process was

adequate and generally in line with international standards. Voters had full and unimpeded access to polling stations and there were no incidents reported by the observers. The observation mission therefore congratulates the Azerbaijani people for their peaceful and orderly conduct during this electoral process. The Central Election Commission contributed to the transparency of the process by releasing updates from the opening of the polls until the end of the counting and tabulation of the results.

Based on the observations of the Mission and meetings with other stakeholders, it can be stated that the preparation for the elections and the voting processes were professionally and technically well organised. Observers noted improvements in the access of voters to information, the inclusiveness of voter registration and the quality of electoral materials.

The mission also noted that there was no sign of a police presence or campaign or election materials, and praised the installation of web cameras in polling stations, a fulfillment of the Venice Commission’s recommendation. Overall, while noting “serious concerns in the sphere of human rights,” the PACE mission noted that “the significant increase in voter turnout and the transparency of voting and counting procedures demonstrate another step forward taken by the Republic of Azerbaijan towards free, fair and democratic elections.”

This conclusion was echoed by other international observers.

Franz Obermayr, an Austrian MEP, praised the “fair process,” which he described as “transparent and democratic.” He went on to laud the improved participation of women in the elections process, especially noting the large number of women who stood for seats. In a subsequent interview, he made clear that he had enjoyed no obstruction in his review of polling stations, and had found the election-day process in accord with international norms.

The European National Parliament observation group, a Brussels-based NGO composed of former and current European leaders, stressed the importance of continued work with Azerbaijan. “Our election monitoring group believes it is in everyone’s long-term interest to continue monitoring and contributing to Azerbaijan’s political development,” they said in their official statement. “Overall, the voting procedures have been carried out well, with only minor technical problems observed.” They concluded that the elections had been performed generally “in line with” internationally recognized standards.

The European Academy Elections Observation Mission, another Brussels-based NGO dedicated to improving election standards in Europe and beyond, also echoed this result, praising the process improvements in these elections, the free access they enjoyed; the robust political diversity in every constituency (“We were pleased to observe that there were several candidates in each constituency, at least four and up to more than ten.”) and the presence of webcams for transparency in both the voting process and in ballot-counting. While noting some minor technical problems, they concluded, “We felt that overall, this was a good result — the same procedures should be used in the next election.”

Azerbaijan has shown a willingness and the ability to mature as a democracy. It is time for the West to help it learn the next steps, and to encourage it into a future where its democratic process is recognized for the achievement it is.