Our Analytics 11 february — 15:37

OSCE 'police' in Baku cause confusion in opposition (Editorial)

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BY POLITICS SECTION

Preliminary results of the early parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan were announced, in which over 1300 candidates ran. The voting process was monitored by hundreds of international and tens of thousands of local observers.

In 125 constituencies, the winners, although unofficially, have already been announced. The pre-election excitement observed in the country over the past two months has declined. And the Central Election Commission (CEC) begins to consider complaints received during the elections. It has already been stated that all the facts presented and the video recordings distributed on social networks will be investigated in the most serious way. According to the results of the investigation, according to the CEC, tough measures will be taken up to the voting results being cancelled. The CEC promises to carefully consider any fact that may indicate a violation of the principles of transparency and objectivity of elections.

CEC itself works on errors

ODIHR is in Baku at the government's behest

Ideal elections, as world practice shows, are impossible in any country, especially when it comes to parliamentary elections, in which more than 1300 candidates were announced. There were violations, according to the CEC, and no one hides this. And the main mission of the election commission today is to determine the degree of influence of certain negative facts on the election results. The CEC is already working in this direction, and the citizens of the country can be sure that if such significant violations are detected, this can cast doubt on the results in individual constituencies, appropriate measures will be taken, and those guilty will be strictly punished. All this, in general, does not go beyond the normal democratic course of elections and, as a rule, is quite expected. It is also expected that disputes and discussions about the objectivity and transparency of the entire electoral process and the personality of individual deputies who have passed into parliament will continue.

As after all the elections, this time the country's public was eagerly awaiting not only their results, but also the preliminary report made by the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), which took over the functions of the police for elections in most countries of Europe. OSCE/ODIHR has traditionally been the 'chief judge' and, as a rule, it is the elections in Azerbaijan that are sharply criticised by it, sometimes even casting doubt on their legitimacy. Despite this, the Azerbaijani government sent an invitation to the OSCE/ODIHR to observe the February 9 parliamentary elections. In addition, the Azerbaijani authorities did not put forward any restrictions and preconditions for the number of international observers. For the ODIHR, all conditions were created both for studying the election situation and for monitoring the voting process.

And on 10 February, the heads of international observation missions from among the representatives of the OSCE/ODIHR, OSCE PA and PACE completed their work and appeared in front of camera lenses. Their preliminary report is published and requires no details. It would be naive to expect a completely positive report from this mission. So it happened: the 'election police' of the OSCE, as Western journalists call the ODIHR, as always, tried to include even the smallest and most minor violations in their report.

ODIHR appear before Azerbaijani journalists

Nevertheless, the mission's report also reflected positive aspects that the OSCE observers noted for the first time in the elections in Azerbaijan.

For the first time, the OSCE recognises progress at elections!

The international mission emphasised the fact that a large number of candidates ran for the current election, calling it the main condition for democratic competition. It is worth noting that after all the previous parliamentary elections, the ODIHR mission made harsh comments on the registration of candidates, especially pointing out the refusal of it to some applicants. According to the ODIHR, this casts a shadow on the objectivity of the election. Now, there are practically no complaints about the stage of registration of candidates, because 10-12 candidates competed in each constituency.

Another positive aspect was observed by the observation mission in the inclusiveness of the registration process, noting that candidates were nominated from 19 political parties. The report also indicates that the CEC registered about 90 thousand local and 833 international observers. In other words, no obstacles were fixed for registering both local and foreign observers, which ensured serious monitoring of the elections and their transparency.

The OSCE mission was also pleased this time with the work of the CEC, noting its transparency and friendly attitude towards international observers. The CEC meetings were open to observers and the press, and all decisions were taken jointly and periodically published on its website, which further contributed to the transparency of its activities, and hence the favour of the observers.

This time the voter had from whom to choose

In its report, the foreign mission also notes the installation of more than a thousand surveillance cameras at polling stations, which made their work open and controlled.

At the same time, for the first time in the history of ODIHR's election monitoring in Azerbaijan, the report indicates that due to the conflict with Armenia, which led to a large number of refugees, elections could not be held in 10 constituencies, the territories of which are fully or partially outside Azerbaijan's control. However, it was noted that everything possible was done to ensure the electoral rights of internally displaced persons. The reflection in the document of the problem arising from the priority for Azerbaijan issue of the Karabakh settlement was a notable diplomatic success of official Baku.

Khadija's worth a shot

Meanwhile, contrary to the expectations of opposition representatives, who were eagerly awaiting the preliminary report of the International Observation Mission, to once again cast doubt on the election results, the current ODIHR press conference did without aggressive attacks and harsh statements against Azerbaijan. Only journalist Khadija Ismayilova tried to tense up the situation by asking the mission leaders why the mandate of the Azerbaijani delegation to PACE were not frozen.

Frank Schwabe, known for his traditional anti-Azerbaijani position, responded to this question, contrary to Ismayilova's hopes, saying that he was very sceptical about freezing someone's mandate in PACE, and this is generally a difficult and unpredictable dilemma, especially in light of the victorious return to the conference room of the Russian delegation, which had been thrown away years ago. The journalist was clearly disappointed with such a vague and streamlined wording of the critically-minded MEP. As it turned out, freezing the mandate of a delegation of a Council of Europe entity at the request of another country or a narrow social group is hopeless, obviously losing and impractical these days.

Khadija missed

At the press conference, there were other critics of what was happening in the country. In particular, such a head-on, but primitive, politically illiterate question was asked: 'If the international observers found flaws during the election, then why don't they declare the illegitimacy of their results?'

Head of the OSCE short-term mission Artur Gerasimov answered this briefly and succinctly, saying that only the Azerbaijani people determine the issue of legitimacy of elections. And the head of the ODIHR mission, Peter Tejler, emphasised that this issue is beyond the scope of their mandate.

'We are not an elected police force and cannot pass a verdict on legitimacy. Our mission is monitoring the elections,' suppressing such demands, other observers said.

OSCE margin notes

Thus, summarising the views of observers expressed at a press conference and the conclusion of OSCE international missions, we can come to the most important conclusions on the results of the parliamentary elections, which were reflected in an official document of the three leading Western international intergovernmental organisations:

- in the current assessment by the ODIHR of elections in Azerbaijan, the procedural, organisational and methodological approach prevails. The noted shortcomings are considered as organisational and procedural, and therefore do not affect the final election results;

OSCE found only procedural errors in Baku

- violations are episodic, not at all total in nature, that is, they do not have the scale to affect the election results;

- ODIHR's criticism of the current election does not look like a biased attitude towards Azerbaijan. Moreover, it is emphasised that in some countries of Western Europe far more serious problems are sometimes identified;

- Azerbaijani government does not hide political problems from the international community and is ready for constructive cooperation with any international organisation.

Thus, comparing the statements of the international monitoring group voiced at a press conference and their preliminary report with similar conclusions on the previous elections, we can clearly state: international observers appreciated the changes made in Azerbaijan in order to ensure the objectivity and transparency of the elections. For example, after the previous election campaign, all statements of the OSCE mission began with a harsh verdict: 'The election process did not meet OSCE standards and the commitments made by Azerbaijan.' Thus, the preamble of the report itself raised the issue of non-compliance of the elections with OSCE standards. There is no such verdict in the current report and statements.

The mission's current report also does not contain such expressions as 'casting a shadow over the course of the elections', 'raises questions', etc. There are no harsh remarks regarding 'falsifications', 'undemocratic conduct', which 'raises doubts about the legitimacy of the elections'.

The West did not see falsifications and did not doubt the legitimacy

In general, in its report, the observation mission avoids expressing a political position and focuses solely on procedural and technical issues, in particular, on the insufficient competence of constituency commissions employees, who worked in local election commissions and at polling stations. However, nowhere in the report does it say that the violations recorded during the vote count affected the final election results.

One must say that all these flaws and shortcomings were identified by the CEC itself, which stated that all cases of violations would be examined and 'the most stringent measures taken.' In other words, the preliminary report and statements voiced by the leaders of influential international observation missions greatly disappointed those who disagree, who traditionally chose a convenient niche for alienation from the electoral process in the form of a passive boycott, who expected the Azerbaijani authorities to be thoroughly criticised. This time, no one can use the opinion of international observers as an argument to explain their own political failures...

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