Opposition Leaders in Azerbaijan Make Appeal to PACE

(Eurasia.net)–Opposition leaders in Azerbaijan have appealed to the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) for assistance as they continue to work to reverse the results of November’s parliamentary elections.

Azerbaijan’s opposition parties insist the November 6 elections were rigged and have demanded that the results be annulled and a new vote organized. Authorities have largely ignored the opposition’s complaints–and the country’s Constitutional Court has certified the results in 115 of the 125 districts.

An opposition effort to organize mass protests as a way of pressuring officials has fallen flat. The most recent rally–held December 18–attracted few people and was easily contained by authorities. Even so–opposition leaders are not abandoning their campaign for fresh elections. The Azadlig opposition bloc recently urged PACE to suspend Azerbaijan’s membership in the organization.

"If PACE recognizes the mandate of the parliamentary delegation of Azerbaijan–then the last hopes of Azeri people for democracy will have been destroyed," the Azadlig appeal stated.

Fuad Mustafayev–the deputy leader of the Popular Front Party–one of the three members of the Azadlig coalition–expressed the belief that PACE would side with the Azeri opposition–given "the total falsification" of parliamentary results.

"The freezing of a mandate is a rare practice–but the methods of holding elections that were used in Azerbaijan are also rare in the majority of member-countries of the Council of Europe," Mustafayev said.

At a December 15 meeting in Paris–members of a PACE monitoring committee discussed the Azeri election. PACE co-rapporteur Andres Herkel reportedly called for Azerbaijan to be denied a mandate–but other participants of the meeting refused the proposal and no decision was taken. According to Asim Mollazade–an Azeri member of PACE–the organization will continue the debate in January.

Members of a PACE monitoring mission that visited Azerbaijan in early December were highly critical of the Azeri government’s stance. Herkel expressed concern that members of President Ilham Aliyev’s administration were not interested in holding substantive discussions concerning the election. "One gets the impression that the rulings by the Central Election Commission and the Constitutional Court were accelerated and deliberately made before our visit to Baku–so that any discussion would be unconstructive," Herkel said.

Andreas Gross–the other PACE co-rapporteur–voiced dissatisfaction that repeat elections were being organized in only 10 constituencies. The extent of irregularities appeared to warrant re-votes in a larger number of constituencies–Gross indicated. PACE officials have advised the Azeri government to reform the composition of election commissions so that they better reflect the existing political spectrum in Azerbaijan.

"I do not think the majority of PACE members will be indifferent to human rights abuses and the violation of democracy," Gross said at a news conference. "In the worst-case scenario–the Azerbaijani people might think that [advocates of democracy] have forgotten them. If people lose hope in democratic changes–they will seek other values and start leaving the country."

Gultekin Hadjiyeva–member of Azerbaijan’s PACE delegation–expects intense discussion during the organization’s January session. "Although PACE noted positive momen’s during the elections–the fact that the PACE co-rapporteurs–and the head of monitoring mission of PACE [Leo Platvoet] hold a critical position regarding elections will make discussion tense," she said–adding that the outcome of the January debate remains unpredictable.

Zardusht Alizade–a Baku-based political analyst–believes opposition leaders should not count on the support of PACE. A decision to suspend Azerbaijan’s PACE mandate would be taken "by delegates of member states that have their own economic interests in Azerbaijan," Alizade noted. "These countries have ties with Azerbaijani authorities–and–therefore–the hopes of the opposition have little chance for success."

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