Azerbaijani opposition candidates ‘prevented from registering for elections’

15 January 2020
Photo: Trend News Agency.

Several opposition and independent candidates have claimed to have been prevented from registering for 9 February’s snap parliamentary elections. Other opposition figures have reported facing pressure from the authorities to withdraw.

Ilgar Mammadov, the leader of the Republican Alternative Party (ReAl), reported on 2 January that several candidates from their ‘Real Republicans’ bloc were facing pressure from the government to withdraw. 

‘We know why these threats are being made. The number of appeals submitted to the ECHR [the European Court of Human Rights] from Azerbaijan which the authorities lost is so great that it cannot be compared with any other country’, Mammadov said. 

‘Thus, the government’s tactics are to force candidates to refuse to participate in the elections as much as possible and reduce the number of appeals to the court.’

The opposition has been split over whether or not to participate in the election, with a number of opposition groups including the National Council of Democratic Forces and the Popular Front Party announcing they would boycott the poll.

[Read more on OC Media: Azerbaijan’s opposition split over snap election]

Rasul Jafarov and Zaur Gurbanli — two other members of the block — were prevented from contesting the election due to their criminal records. The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that they were illegally convicted and ordered the government to clear them of their criminal records. 

[Read more on OC Media: Council of Europe urges Azerbaijan to clear criminal records of activists and opposition figures

Mammadov also said that he had sent an official statement to the Council of Europe (CoE) demanding the Azerbaijani authorities comply with the ECHR ruling and restore his right to participate in the elections. 

He also told the CoE that in view of Azerbaijan’s refusal to comply with the ECHR’s ruling, the country’s rights should be frozen. 

On the same day, the CoE rapporteur on political prisoners in Azerbaijan  condemned the authorities’ failure to implement judgments of the ECHR before the deadline for candidate registrations, arguing that this would ‘call into question the whole democratic basis of the validity of those elections’.

In an interview with Meydan TV, Arif Hajili, the chair of the opposition Musavat Party, said that their party was facing similar obstacles. 

‘There are serious bureaucratic hurdles in the nomination process, the number of leaflets to collect signatures is limited, at the same time we have asked for time on public television, but we were not given it’, he said. 

Azer Gasimli, a representative of the Movement Coalition, a recently formed electoral bloc, reported pressure on their candidates. He said that documents for one of their candidates, Toghrul Veliyev, were not accepted after the authorities claimed some of the signatures nominating him were invalid. 

According to Gasimli, another of the bloc’s candidates, Rabiyya Mammadli, was facing a lawsuit for committing ‘illegal actions’ during the municipal elections. 

Independent candidates Bakhtiyar Hajiyev and Nurlana Jalil also announced they had encountered numerous barriers during the registration process. 

Opposition supporters not intending to participate also reported facing pressure.

Two youth activists, Aytaj Aghazade and Nariman Abdulla, reported facing pressure from the authorities for collecting signatures for independent candidate Baba Mammadli and for participating as observers during the elections. 

They said that they were threatened with arrest if they did not distance themselves from the election process. 

Farhad Mehdiyev, a lawyer, told OC Media that essential documents such as additional sheets to collect signatures were being issued slowly by the Central Election Commission (CEC). The CEC was also demanding candidates produce unnecessary documents, he said.

‘This is done so that candidates do not have time to prepare everything’, Mehdiyev said, adding that local constituency chairs were frequently attempting to keep the number of candidates they are responsible for low. 

‘I do not exclude interference in the electoral process at the local level. It is no secret that corruption can come from the chief executive of the region, or directly from the chairman of the election committee’, he added.

‘Dirty methods of the opposition’

The authorities have dismissed accusations of impropriety in the registration of candidates and accused the ‘radical opposition’ of stirring up trouble.  

Siyavush Novruzov, the deputy executive secretary of the ruling New Azerbaijan Party, told Trend on 10 January that ‘the radical opposition has resorted to dirty methods to denigrate the electoral process’. 

‘The radical opposition is in such a hopeless situation that it is trying to politicise conflicts that have occurred on domestic grounds […] They start discussions on social networks, on TV channels, and on the Internet, even on simple events, trying to give them a political context. Naturally, their instructions come from abroad’, he said. 

Ali Ahmadov, deputy chair and executive secretary of the New Azerbaijan Party, wrote on Facebook on 7 January that 123 candidates from the party had been registered with the CEC. 

He said that the fact that over 2,000 candidates had applied to stand in the elections showed there was ‘a big interest’ in the elections which proved that ‘the election process is taking place in a fully democratic environment’. 

‘The reality shows the opposite of the claims and false propaganda of the radical opposition’, he said. 

‘Kill two birds with one stone’

Leyla Aliyeva, a political expert and visiting scholar at the Russian and East European Studies Centre at Oxford University, told OC Media that the experience of local elections had shown that even when the government allowed independent and opposition candidates to run for elections, they created obstacles to prevent them from winning.

‘By registering some and not others, the government kills two birds with one stone. On the one hand, it creates discord and confusion within the opposition camp and in public opinion, and on the other, it creates the illusion that elections can create an opportunity for opposition candidates to be elected’, she said. 

Aliyeva said that the ruling party was not interested in any change in the balance of power in parliament. Non-government candidates who win the election would not shift the balance of power, she said.

An OSCE mission to monitor the elections will be led by Swedish diplomat Peter Tejler. On 14 January, they will be joined by 30 long-term observers who will be deployed throughout the country. Another 350 short-term observers will arrive directly at the polls.

‘Compared to previous elections, electoral law has not changed much. This means that many recommendations have not been taken into account’, Tejler said.

Parliament passed a resolution recommending the president dissolve Parliament on 2 December.

On 5 December, President Ilham Aliyev signed a decree to dissolve parliament and scheduled snap elections for 9 February.

The Central Election Commission announced that registration for candidates would open on 21 December and last until 10 January. The campaigning period will start on 17 January and end on 8 February.

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