On November 7, Azerbaijan will hold its fourth parliamentary elections since independence in 1991.
• Unlike in previous elections, this year’s parliamentary elections do not offer even a theoretical chance for contesting the majority votes in the national elections. Already during the period for registering parliamentary candidates, two-thirds of the candidates of the main opposition Popular Front-Musavat bloc were denied a place on the ballot. As a result, the opposition will be contesting 39-40 out of 125 seats in parliament.
• The campaign period itself is considerably shortened from previous elections to 23 days. Moreover, the Central Election Commission and the Azerbaijani government have interpreted the legal term “campaign period” very narrowly, basically banning freedom of assembly, the right to promote a political agenda, and engage in political advocacy outside these days. For example, the Popular Front-Musavat bloc was banned from holding a rally in Baku before October 15 because the Election Commission said the 23-day campaign period had not yet started.
• For the first time since 1993, the Azerbaijani government has prohibited political rallies during the election period. Political rallies have been replaced by town-hall meetings — a much smaller-scale activity. The effect of this change is that — unlike the elections of 1995, 1998, 2000, 2003, and 2005 — this year there will be no opposition rally with thousands of people taking part. The visual message for Azerbaijani society is that the opposition — and not only that, but also the democratic process — has shrunk and cannot mobilize large-scale support.
• The government-controlled TV channel aired an openly pornographic video, filmed by secret camera, of an opposition editor having sex with a woman in his apartment. This “gloves-off” approach against opponents of the government sends a signal to the public that the assault on the opposition will now be ruthless. It’s worth noting that the video has also been used to equate the opposition’s values with Western values, which are understood in the official media to be decadent and detrimental to Azeri norms. The extension of this attitude to Western democracy is implicit.
• For the first time, the Azerbaijani opposition bloc openly refused to meet with the election assessment mission of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) calling the Council of Europe on its failure to criticize Azerbaijan for failing to meet its international obligations. This is another shattered link in a chain connecting the democratic forces in Azerbaijan and the major democratic institutions of the West, and additional evidence of the eroding respect for democratic values — and the international institutions that supposedly safeguard them — in Azerbaijan.
• Unlike the elections of 2000 and 2005 when there was hope in the authority of the Council of Europe, and unlike the elections of 2005, which were imbued with the spirit of the color revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine, the elections of 2010 are held in an atmosphere of total depression and lack of hope for any meaningful, positive development in the country.
– Gorkhmaz Askarov of RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service
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Copyright (c) 2010. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.