Civil Initiative for Free and Democratic Elections (GISDI), an NGO, invited by the Central Election Commission to observe the Presidential Elections to be held on 11 April 2018, recently issued its Interim Report.
In its report, GISDI long-term observation mission assesses the current geopolitical situation as the case necessitating holding early Presidential elections on 11 April 2018; highlights the compliance of election observation with the international standards for democratic and fair elections; considers the political, economic and cultural features of Azerbaijan; assesses pre-election situation and legal framework for the conduct of elections; comments on candidate nomination and registration, election campaign, its media coverage and etc.
The report notes that 15 candidates were nominated for the presidential elections and their applications were submitted to the Central Election Commission (CEC). 8 out of them were registered by the CEC. It underlines that “all candidates and party representatives that GISDI mission met shared with them that they have not experienced any problem with the registration of their candidacy. They could hardly point anything that could hinder their campaign.”
The report highlights that “most of the registered political parties with few exceptions have expressed their will to participate in the Presidential Elections”.
The report analyses the results of sociological surveys carried out by various organisations ahead of the elections. Reffering to the results of these surveys, authors of the report highlight that most of the respondents rated socio-political situation in Azerbaijan as stable, and support policy carried out by the President of Azerbaijan. They note that in all surveys the rating of the incumbent President is high and that the respondents will support him in the election.”
The report explains “with expert opinions the reasons why two traditional opposition boycotters and their satellite organizations refused to nominate” and states that “main reason is related to the lack of chance of their candidates to compete with the main candidate.”
Assessing the current legal framework for conducting the election, GISDI reminds that “the Election Code was adopted in May 2003 as a result of intense communication and collaboration with the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe, OSCE/ODIHR, and International Foundation of Electoral Systems (IFES).”
The authors of the report note that the election administration in Azerbaijan is built up in a traditional style and comprises a three-tiered hierarchical system of election commissions – Central Election Commission, Constituency Election Commissions and Precinct Election Commissions. It is highlighted that “the Central Election Commission’s website provides thorough information about recent developments. English version of the website helps foreign observers meet their respective commitments.”
The issues of voter education and empowerment are broadly covered in GISDI report. The report says that CEC has conducted a set of different projects with the aim to rise voters’ education and empower them to make informative choice and exercise their civil right to vote. It is also noted that CEC has prepared and distributed a number of printed materials, radio and TV programs, broadcasted by the public service and private media once a week. There are also several educational short videos published on YouTube and other social media.
The report notes that, on February 22, 2018, the CEC has published the list of broadcasting companies and newspapers where the candidates will be given free airtime subject to equal conditions and limitations.
The document states that, in accordance with the law, specific locations have been allocated under the decisions of local executive authorities in more than 70 cities and settlements of the country for the meetings of candidates with voters. There are 12 locations in the capital city Baku, one being in each of these 12 administrative districts of the capital.
Summarizing the Interim Report, long-term observation mission of GISDI states that legal framework for conducting democratic elections in accordance with the international standards exists in the Republic of Azerbaijan; pre-election environment is stable; there is not any threat to the free exercise of the people’s voting rights and the organization of the fair and democratic electoral process; macro-political environment in the country favors the conduct of free and democratic elections.
GISDI was established in 1990 in Bulgaria and is specialized in the field of election observation, and since its establishment has conducted observation missions in Bulgaria. GISDI has participated in a number of international election observation missions and has been observing elections in Azerbaijan since 2003.