IN THE SPOTLIGHT
CSF welcomes EP decision to observe Presidential Election in Azerbaijan
After protests from human rights defenders the European Parliament (EP) yesterday (September 5th) decided to reverse a decision taken in July not to observe forthcoming presidential elections in Azerbaijan and to send an observation team to assess the whether the poll will be free and fair.
The decision came as the Civil Society Forum of the Eastern Partnership, an alliance of pro European NGOs in six eastern European countries, has been campaigning for parliamentary bodies like the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and the EP to send competent and unbiased observers to presidential elections in Georgia and Azerbaijan this autumn.
However last July the EP committee responsible for identifying election observation missions decided to give the Azeri election on October 9 a miss even though successive elections in the country in the past had been attended by an EP observation team and that there were sufficient funds for such a mission.
“Evidently they decided not to go because they knew that the election result would be manipulated and that if they criticized that they would offend the Azeri government and if they turned a blind eye to the fraudulent behavior then they would lose face” said a person close to the committee’s deliberations.
Elkhan Suleymanov, the top Azeri parliamentarian responsible for relations with the EP immediately declared that the decision proved that Azerbaijan was a functioning democracy and that the EP felt that there was no need for election monitoring there.
But human rights defenders including Poland’s Helsinki Foundation and AEGEE, the pan European student body, protested the decision and urged the EP to send a team.
The Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum (EAP-CSF) also wrote to Martin Schultz, the head of the EP, and the heads of the major parliamentary groups in the parliament to urge a change. “We are happy that common sense has prevailed and that the EP has decided to stand by its democratic principles in support of the cause of free and fair elections”, said Krzysztof Bobinski, a CSF-EAP steering committee co-chair. “Now the main thing is that the parliament should chose a competent and independent team which will report on what really happens on October 9 and not what the government there wants to hear” he added.