Friday, July 01, 2005

Western Pressure Grows For Fair Elections In Azerbaijan

Again returning to the theme of demands on two of the three South Caucasus Republics to enact real democratic change, Eurasianet reports that the Azerbaijani parliament has passed ammendments to the electoral code in the face of increased US and European pressure. The news follows pressure on the Armenian government to include three clauses in the proposed constitution that would theoretically curtail the President's powers.
The Commission has not yet issued comments on the final electoral law, but in a June 16 statement warned that the code would leave no room for free and democratic elections this November if changes were not made beyond the largely technical revisions submitted by Azerbaijan to the Commission on June 14. Aside from the make-up of election commissions, particular attention has also focused on allowing voters’ fingers to be marked to avoid so-called "carousel" or duplicate voting, a practice cited in both the 2000 parliamentary and 2003 presidential elections.
Of course, reform and ammendments are one thing but ensuring that they function are another. Nevertheless, there would appear to be increased pressure on both Armenia and Azerbaijan to introduce more than just cosmetic changes or else face possible sanctions and even international isolation. Even though the US has vested interests in Azerbaijan in the form of the BTC pipeline. Nevertheless, the US Embssy in Baku has been vocal in its demands for restraint from the authorities regarding recent opposition protests.

In the volatile South Caucasus, democracy is seen as key to promoting long term stability.

Exit polls could provide one check for whether or not Azerbaijan has met that standard. Under an agreement with the Azerbaijani government, negotiated by US Ambassador Reno Harnish, the US Agency for International Development will provide financing for exit polls in almost half of Azerbaijan’s constituencies during the November ballot. No information has yet been released on the amount of financing.


The US role has not been limited to exit polls. Harnish also arranged talks on the elections between pro-government parties (YAP, Ana Veten, Sosial Fifakh) and opposition parties (the Popular Front, Democratic Party, Musavat, Citizens Unity Party) under the auspices of the Baku mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Although the two meetings held since May have failed to result in any serious breakthroughs, the talks have been deemed a success for stimulating discussion about how to hold free and fair elections. All discussion of the make-up of election commissions, a topic advocated by the opposition, has been vetoed by YAP participants in the talks, however.

Interesting days. The end of the year will be important tests for both Armenia and Azerbaijan in terms of democratic development. Armenia will see local elections in October and a referendum on constitutional ammendments by November, the same month that parliamentary elections are scheduled for Azerbaijan. I don't suppose that any of these events will be problem-free but it will be interesting to see if either country now has the political will to implement changes demanded by the West even if it comes as a result of significant international pressure.

Of course, it can all go disasterously wrong and the situation in Georgia is beginning to concern a few people. Saakashvili's wife is reported be in the process of leaving him, international donors are unhappy with the pace of reform and are witholding money and today, Public TV of Armenia showed a major skirmish between deputies in the Georgian National Assembly. Still, at least they fought over something. The Armenian National Assembly, full of oligarchs, businessmen and individuals without the trust of the electorate, has hardly bothered to turn up or fight for anything.

The full article can be read online here.

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