I want to talk about the preliminary conclusion and initial report of International Observation Mission of OSCE/ODIHR regarding the presidential elections held in Azerbaijan
The Presidential election have been successfully held in Azerbaijan on April 11, 2018 and necessary democratic and equal conditions were created for the all 8 candidates participating at this competition. Six of the candidates were nominated by political parties, one candidate was a self-nominee and another one was nominated by an initiative group. Candidate from the New Azerbaijan Party, Mr. IlhamAliyev overwhelmingly won the election.
As you know, putting aside past disagreements regarding activities of ODIHR, in particular its election monitoring activities, the Government of Azerbaijan has extended timely invitation to ODIHR. Azerbaijan took practical steps to assist ODIHR to overcome certain practical difficulties in organization of the observation mission, in particular in finding necessary number of seconded long-term observers. Throughout the process the Government created all conditions necessary for the mission to be implement its mission with a view to re-establish constructive and fruitful cooperation.
Mr. Tsereteli, you as President and Mr. Montella, you as Secretary General of the Assembly sincerely put your efforts to promote this co-operation and to help the sides explore new opportunities in the best interest of our common values and principles. I, indeed thank both of you for the efforts and energy you invested in this process and very much appreciate it. But unfortunately the unbalanced and unfair report and press-release that were delivered on 12 April had negative impact on all these efforts and aspirations and almost nullified them.
Of course, It is too difficult and even painful for me as vice-president of the OSCE PA, the organization that I have been dedicating 13 years of my international political carrier, to talk here about all of these problems and failures.
Please don’t misunderstand me that I am saying all because of critical points of the report. Not at all. Having led several observation missions, I very well know what is the role of ODIHR and I have no objection to any substantiated and objective criticism and recommendations ODIHR put forward based on observation and findings. This criticism and assessment are welcomed and have taken seriously if they are prepared based on real facts and evidences.
Unfortunately, after having read preliminary conclusion and press release of IOM, I found them unbalanced, unfair and even biased. Preliminary Conclusion and initial report simply failed to depict both positive and negative aspects in a balanced manner so that to reflect the real situation with regard to election campaign and election day. Even more disturbing, some critical points reflected in the report contradict certain paragraphs of the same report and are simply wrong. And they all concern me very much as member of Azerbaijani Parliament and vice-president of the Assembly.
Let me just bring some examples and facts to substantiate what I have said above.
First, regarding omitted positive aspects which were relevant needed to be included to the report in order to give fair and full picture of the assessment:
1) The report states that all other candidates abstained from opposing or demonstrating an opposite position to the incumbent president. This wasn’t the case. Because anyone who followed the election process witnessed that some presidential candidates, especially the Azerbaijan Democratic Party Chairman SardarJalaloglu, harshly criticized the authorities during debates on Public Television and other media and social networks, and did not face any restrictions caused by it.
2) Exercise of the freedom of assembly which is directly related to the political environment. There wasn’t a single word in the press-realis and Statement about the fact that freedom of assembly of the candidates participating in the elections and the political parties that refused to take part in was respected as the opposition rallies which were held in the center of Baku on March 10 and 31 are clear examples in this regard.
3) Equal conditions were created for those wishing to participate in the elections and who submitted the documents and signatures specified in the legislation and none of them was prevented from participating in the election marathon.
4) Unlike in the interim report, the fact that 80 percent of the Azerbaijani population has access to the Internet is "forgotten" in the Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions for some unknown reason. It does not mention that websites, especially social media, is fully free in Azerbaijan and doesn’t have any lines distinguishing insult from criticism.
5) In general, the interim report which was issued on 29 March and the report on preliminary findings dated 12 April substantially differs from each other as if these two documents were about two different countries. Many aspects that were reflected in a relatively balanced manner in the interim report have been depicted in the preliminary findings differently. This fact itself causes serious doubts on integrity of the mission.
6) The aspect, which is a major innovation and was applied for the first time in the current year's presidential election, was unfairly and deliberately left out of the spotlight and wasn’t included in the report. This is fact is that in addition to the free airtime allocated for debates on the Public Television, most of the nationwide private television news programs gave free airtime for all candidates for campaigning and provided detailed coverage of their meetings with voters. Even during the final week of the election campaign, 84 percent of the total number of materials demonstrated on TV channels were about the other candidates,namlyopponents, and only 16 percent were dedicated to the election campaign of the YAP candidate. Although the OSCE / ODIHR had detailed information about it, unfortunately, they didn’t include any information about it in the report.
My next concern is the used language, open gaps and controversial points of the report. Let me draw your attention to some of them:
1) It is mentioned in the press-release that “more than half of the vote counts were assessed negatively”.
Any person reading this information may conclude that the Election Observation Mission visited more than 3000 polling stations out of existing 5,641 and witnessed gross violations in each of them during the process of counting of votes. But it’s non-sense and mathematically impossible. Simply, because International Observation Missions had maximum 360 observers and with all capacity they could observe vote counts at the same time and with same number of Polling stations. So, how they can pretend that “more than half of the vote counts were assessed negatively? What is that? This is obvious bias and deliberate attempt to cast shadow on the election.
Colleagues, these are really too minor to be serve as basis for such a negative assessment that the ODIHR made with regard to elections. This clearly testify to biased approach taken in the report.
2) The information about conversations with interlocutors was intentionally “filtered”.
It is noted in the Statement that the mission interviewed several interlocutors. Surely, they gave them both positive and negative information or fact, but only the negative and controversial ones were reflected in the Statement. It doesn’t go in line with any core principle of objectivity, is there any practical use in just omitting the one side of the overall picture while focusing on another. We can’t call it valid criticism, because the Statement is one-sided.
I want to ask you. Do such actions in fact increase the credibility of organization which issued this statement?
3) The scale of issues is exaggerated in the Statement.
The Statement says about numerous cases of ballot box stuffing. But you put this on the first page as general tendency. How justified is it to put doubt on the whole electoral process because of 5 or 6 single cases of ballot stuffing? My question is if you have any special measurement system regarding the number of similar cases after which you include the fact in the Statement and characterize it as a widely-spread? If not, then why was it done in the Statement? Such claims harm the reputation of Azerbaijan without any real reason.
If to add it as a matter of fact that one of the three key persons, Stefan Krause, deputy head of the mission who drafted initial report has prejudice against my country as proven with his previously placed several posts in his Facebook account. I guess, you can imagine what could produce the person who publicly disrespect country’s symbols and leadership.
I am so disappointed that such biased and selective approach undermine credibility of ODIHR and entire observation mission. Yet, we are still taking the issue very seriously and stand ready to consider all the allegations. I would appreciate if ODIHR will share all the evidences found during observation with the Azerbaijani authorities, so it could further investigate and fix the shortcomings in due course.
Please also be informed that Central Election Commission in its statement of 13 April gave detailed analysis of shortcomings and contradictions identified in the preliminary report and expressed its hope that they will be removed.
I could not have remained silent and indifferent to this injustice. It's not caused by the fact that this injustice happened against my country. Anyway, I would have still expressed my attitude if it were against any other country. We should not forget our responsibilities as Bureau members and leadership of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and should not allow such a biased and unfair approach to the member States and must be able to prevent it in time.
At the end, I would like to give you all these information and facts that I mentioned here and also ask you to convey them to ODIHR for its re-consideration and incorporation in the final report. I think it is never late to correct errors taking into account comments which are justified and based on facts.
Thank you, Mr. President