Azerbaijan’s recent municipal elections have been marred by widespread reports of electoral violations, including ‘group voting’ and ballot stuffing. Several prominent activists also put forward their candidacies for the election.
The elections were held on 23 December. According to the Central Election Commission, voter turnout in the municipal elections was 33% across the country. This year, 15,000 municipal members were elected in over 1,600 municipalities. In total, over 41,000 candidates participated in the elections. Although 13 political parties were represented, most opposition parties chose not to participate.
Candidates in spite of themselves
There are numerous accounts of candidates, even candidates for the ruling New Azerbaijan Party, who were registered as such without the person’s knowledge or consent. One such person, Javid Mahammadli, a candidate for the municipality from the Shamkir-Dashkesan district # 100, wrote on Facebook that he was not aware he was a candidate in the election.
He wrote that he had been approached by government officials and asked for his identity card, he complied. The next day, he saw his name in the list of candidates for the election. Although he later deleted the Facebook post, his name was never removed from the list of candidates.
A similar incident was described by journalist Sakhavat Mammad, who wrote on Facebook that, during the election, he witnessed a man discovering his wife’s photo on the election campaign board. When he asked his wife about her candidacy, she told him she was unaware of it.
A government employee, the woman recalled that government officials had recently approached her asked for her ID. Unbeknownst to her, she was made a candidate.
Blogger Habib Mintazir wrote on Facebook that some of the candidates are close relatives of the former mayor. According to him, in the Neftchala constituency, several close relatives of the chair of the Kholkaragashly municipality, Alibaba Salimov ran in the municipal elections — this is prohibited by Azerbaijani electoral. Salimov is also a member of the ruling New Azerbaijan Party.
Mintazir also found that the Orbudbad, Vanend, Sabirkand, and Surakhani constituencies also had multiple relatives running for municipal office. Following Mintazir’s post, the CEC later disqualified many of these candidates.
A ‘negative’ impression
Akif Gurbanov, head of the Institute for Democratic Initiatives, an NGO promoting democracy and civil society, told OC Media that few people in Azerbaijan are interested in municipal elections.
‘The impression [that people] have of the [municipal] elections is quite negative’, he said. ‘There is no confidence in the [validity of the] election.’
Despite public disinterest and a lack of trust in municipal elections, this year a number of young activists nevertheless decided to run.
Blogger Mehman Huseynov told OC Media that he had decided to run for the election because of his sense of public duty.
‘As a blogger, as a journalist, I have served these people with a camera in my hand’, he said. ‘I have publicised the problems of the citizens, illuminated them, and partially solved them. I wondered why I should not be involved in solving the problems of these people.’
Vafa Nagy, another candidate, told OC Media that she was moved to submit her candidacy because of the many problems that afflict her home village of Kholgaragashli.
‘There are so many problems in the village that they cannot be solved individually or in small jobs. So I gave my nomination to the municipality. Although the municipality has little authority in Azerbaijan, it is important to use those powers and try to solve problems’, she said.
[Read more on OC Media: ‘I did all these things so that the women would not lose hope’]
In several posts published to Facebook, Nagy reported being pressured the former mayor of the village and the chair of the Constituency Election Commission pressured her to withdraw her candidacy.
Despite the pressure, she was elected. Of the prominent activists who ran in the Municipal elections, she was the only official winner. According to election observers stationed at several polling stations, Mehman Huseynov received a clear majority of the vote.
However, Huseynov was not listed as a winner in official CEC results. He has claimed that the results were falsified, adding that observers were not allowed to watch the vote counting process in a majority of polling stations.
In general, a large number of electoral violations and irregularities were reported throughout the country.
According to the Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Center, 47% of polling stations experienced ‘group voting’, in which a large number of people would go from polling station to polling stations and vote repeatedly. Ballot stuffing was observed in 45% of polling stations. In 43% of polling stations, individuals returning to vote multiple times were observed.
The Center also reported that, in stark contrast to official numbers that had turnout at 33%, the real voter turnout was 21% across the country.
The Civil Society Development Assistance Association in Azerbaijan, a government-supported NGO which monitors elections, considered the municipal elections on 23 December a success, as they were conducted in accordance with Azerbaijani legislation and democratic norms.
Mazahir Panahov, the chair of the Central Election Commission, told reporters that footage of electoral violations during the municipal elections will be investigated. Panahov stressed that if there is any unpleasant situation, it should appeal to the Constituency Election Commissions.
‘Nobody has the right to interfere in the electoral process. In case of adverse circumstances, it is necessary to apply first to the Constituency Election Commission. In case they are dissatisfied with the decision of the Constituency Election Commission, they can apply to the Central Election Commission’, he said. ‘Everything will be thoroughly investigated in accordance with the Election Code.’