Autumn 1998 (6.3)
New Election Laws in Azerbaijan
On Sunday, October 11, 1998, the Republic of Azerbaijan will hold its first presidential election under the country's new Constitution (adopted in 1995) in which the term for Presidency is five years.
In February 1998, a new election law was proposed. Following debate in the Azerbaijani Parliament (Milli Majlis) and formal discussions with opposition parties, leading political figures and numerous international organizations, the draft law was substantially amended and passed by the Parliament. It was signed into law by President Heydar Aliyev on June 9, 1998.
As a result of these talks, the new law is the most comprehensive of its kind among the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union. Its passage represents a new chapter in the developing democratic environment, not just in Azerbaijan, but in the entire region. It has been written to ensure free and fair elections and to support an electoral process consistent with international standards for democratic elections.
The Azerbaijan Government recognizes that the presidential elections will be watched closely by the international community, including the United States. In drafting the new election law, Azerbaijani authorities have sought the advice of and incorporated numerous recommendations from international organizations such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs. These organizations along with others have been active in all stages of drafting the election law and in determining election processes. Along with other non-governmental organizations (NGOs), they are expected to remain active during the ongoing process of resolving disputes and interpretations of election regulations and procedures. In addition, these groups will serve as election observers.
The National Democratic Institute for International Affairs said in a statement issued on July 22, 1998 that "the current draft of the law on presidential elections provides in many respects a legal framework that conforms with international standards for elections. It reflects extensive deliberation and consultation on the part of the government, and incorporates proposals made by the opposition."
Central Election Commission
The law establishes an independent Central Election Commission (CEC), comprised of representatives from political factions in the country, to monitor and supervise the electoral process. The CEC is to have 24 non-partisan members: 12 members are appointed by the President, with the remaining 12 appointed by the Parliament on a representational basis appropriate to party affiliation in the legislature. In addition to the 24 non-partisan seats, each political party that meets the qualification (of 50,000 signatures) to put forth a presidential candidate will also receive a seat on the CEC. Citizens may sign petitions endorsing as many candidates as they desire.
The CEC is responsible for registering qualified candidates, directing the work of territorial and precinct electoral commissions, supervising all legal aspects of the elections, distributing funds necessary to hold the elections, and determining the results of the presidential elections.
The law requires a total of 25 percent voter turnout. If the turnout is lower than this percentage, a second round of voting must be held. If no candidate receives two-thirds of the votes cast in the first round, there must be a second round of voting.
Transparency in the Vote Count
The law provides for transparency in the vote count at all polling stations, including the public display of vote count results and the provision of certified results to all party and international observers. The CEC is required to issue a complete election report within one month of the polling.
Outside Monitoring and Observers
Representatives of NGOs are permitted to monitor each step of the electoral process, including verification of signatures, staffing of local and territorial electoral offices, preparation of voter lists, meetings of the CEC, distribution of ballots, voting and voting tabulation. More than 4,000 polling places will be established throughout the country, and both domestic and international monitors will be able to be present at any or all of them.
Role of Certain Domestic Groups
The law imposes strict measures governing the role and function of regional governors, local executive authorities, security forces and the police in the electoral process. Except to vote, police will only be permitted to enter the polling place in uniform and only at the request of a precinct commission to resolve an issue involving public safety.
The law seeks to ensure impartial media coverage of the elections, including that of state-sponsored television. All Presidential candidates will be ensured equal air time. All candidates and parties will have equal access to media for open discussions, press conferences and political advertising. The law provides for the Government to inform citizens about electoral procedures and voter rights through non-partisan means, including radio and television programming, which is to be developed in cooperation with local civic organizations.
The law establishes regulations regarding the financing of elections. Presidential candidates will receive funding from the CEC in equal amounts. Individual candidates can utilize their own private finances for campaign activities. Other citizens, political parties, electoral blocks (2 or more political parties) and support groups may contribute funds, subject to certain limits. The law prohibits external entities, including foreign governments, corporations, non-Azer-baijani citizens and international organizations from providing campaign funds to any candidate or party.
Several domestic institutions, including state and municipal government groups, military units, charitable and religious organizations and individual members of the CEC, are prohibited from distributing election materials or participating in partisan election activities.
On August 6, 1998 President Aliyev issued a Presidential decree abolishing censorship in the country. The decree terminates the Department for Protection of State Secrets in the Press and Other Media, established in 1966 when Azerbaijan was part of the former Soviet Union.
This decree represents an important development in efforts to guarantee a free and independent press in Azerbaijan. This Department, which used to control the dissemination of information, has been a serious impediment to the development of an autonomous media in Azerbaijan. In addition, the Azerbaijan Government announced it intends to remove a value-added tax on media institutions.
From Azerbaijan International (6.3) Autumn 1998.
© Azerbaijan International 1998. All rights reserved.