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ODIHR On Azerbaijan Vote: Not Up To Us To Say Whether Election Was Democratic

Audrey Glover, the head of ODIHR's election observation mission to the parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan
Audrey Glover, the head of ODIHR's election observation mission to the parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan
In the aftermath of Azerbaijan's parliamentary elections on November 7, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said "the country needs to do much more to make progress in developing a truly pluralist democracy." Audrey Glover, head of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) Election Observation Mission in Baku, took questions from Khadija Ismaiylova of RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service and RFE/RL listeners.

RFE/RL: Could you sum up -- in three sentences -- your statement about the elections?

Audrey Glover:
From the point of view of substance with this election, regrettably, the observation overall of the process showed that the conditions necessary for any sort of meaningful democratic elections were not established. And we are particularly concerned about the restrictions of certain fundamental freedoms in relation to the media, the dominance of public life by one party, and serious violations on election day and an uneven playing field for candidates to compete.

RFE/RL: Can we expect democratic elections while journalists and bloggers are in prison?

Well, it’s really not up to us to really say whether or not the election was democratic. But I was asked this question at the press conference and what I did stress was that it is absolutely essential that you have freedom of expression, free media, a vibrant media, a media where candidates can go and speak, and where there are debates.

RFE/RL: In your report we see only figures. It says one of three polling stations had some violations and there were irregularities. But what do these figures mean? Is that a big number or not?

Well, obviously, we will be analyzing this and the analysis will go into our final report. But certainly, obviously, there are always a few irregularities in elections, but the ballot stuffing was quite significantly high. And, also, I think, there have been reports where the count was also not good in quite a reasonable percentage of polling stations.

RFE/RL: Your statement says that “we are ready to cooperate with the newly elected parliament of Azerbaijan." Do you feel that this is an elected parliament?

In the sense that there was an election and people voted for various candidates -- there was an election and people were voted into parliament. But it is not really for us to say really anything more than that. We really can’t analyze the results of the elections anymore than we have or than we do. Because it is very much a question for the people in this country or for others to decide what the result is in real terms.

[The thing that] we do comment on and look at is whether or not these basic fundamental rights are being observed and implemented. And that is an area where we spent a lot of time in advance of the elections, during the elections, and afterwards with the complaints and appeals, seeing what the position is in relation to these rights. And that is something where we can actually comment and do.

Who actually ends up getting elected is not so much our concerns. Our concerns are whether everyone has had an equal opportunity to stand and to give their platform and to be able to meet and have meetings and rallies.

RFE/RL: I don’t really understand the logic of it, why you cannot speak about those who are not elected but you can say they were elected. If you can call the parliament elected, why you are not in a position to say they are not elected in fact, if they’re not.

It’s the people in parliament, they are elected. Otherwise, they could not be there, could they?

RFE/RL: Why not?

Well, they're not appointed.

RFE/RL: You said you’re going to cooperate with the new parliament. Maybe you should have waited for the court decision before calling it an elected parliament? Are you calling it an election? If you had such elections in your country, would you recognize its results?

: We haven't, as I said, gotten in all the results from the various constituencies yet. And, in addition, the complaints and appeals process hasn't been completed. So we don’t really have a true picture of what has happened. And, in any event, it is not up to us to say that it is or it is not an election.

Listener Farhad: I wonder if such a huge organization as OSCE/ODIHR can boycott the results of polls and call them a total fraud. In theory, is this possible?

It’s not our job to do that. That is the job for others to do. What we do is present the facts, and it is for others to draw conclusions from them. But it is not part of our mandate to say that there is fraud in a particular election or an election is totally [fraudulent]. No, we can’t say that.

* CORRECTION: An earlier version of this interview missed out a word in the last question. It should have read "a total fraud" instead of just a "fraud."