On the 1st of November parliamentary elections will be held in Azerbaijan. Voters will elect, in 125 electoral districts, 125 deputies for a five year term in the unicameral parliament, the Milli Majilis. 1246 candidates were registered by the Central Election Commission (CEC), but 477 of them withdrew their candidacy, leaving 769 candidates to run in the elections. President Ilham Aliyev’s New Azerbaijan Party (YAP) is expected to win a majority of the seats, leading some opposition parties to boycott the elections. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), as well as the European Parliament (EP) have refused to monitor the elections as the repressive regime makes it “impossible for the mission to carry out effective and credible election observation”.
In the 2010 Parliamentary elections YAP won 72 seats, while 2 pro-government parties won 2 and 3 seats along with 48 independent candidates, many of them close allies of Aliyev. No opposition parties were able to hold on to previously held seats. Ahead of this years’ elections, the opposition Popular Front party (AHCP) and the National Council of Democratic Forces, a cooperation of several opposition parties and civil society organizations, decided to boycott the elections. Popular Front chairman Ali Karimli said that the government “must create an environment where there is genuine rivalry and competition in elections”. Other opposition forces, including the REAL movement, the Musavat party and the youth collective NIDA, will run in the elections. Musavat chairman Arif Hajili said that “our activists have been arrested and abducted” while “people collecting signatures and those giving them have been subjected to pressure and harassment”. He said Musavat might recall its candidates. Former Presidential candidate Jamil Hasanli posted a list of the 125 MPs he expected to be elected on his Facebook page as he said “the result is known in advance” as “there is no election atmosphere in the country”.
The election campaign is taking place to the backdrop of heavy restrictions on basic freedoms. Several of Aliyev’s opponents and dissidents have been jailed. In September investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova was sentenced to 7.5 years in jail after she was found guilty of tax evasion, illegal business activity, and abuse of power, charges that are widely believed to be politically motivated and a retaliation for her investigations into Aliyev family’s fortune. U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said there are “increasing restrictions on human rights in Azerbaijan, including curtailing the freedom of the press.” Council of Europe Secretary-General Thorbjorn Jagland noticed a “worrying trend of increasing cases against human rights defenders and journalists, which has a chilling effect on freedom of expression in the country.” Human Rights Watch said that in 2015 Azerbaijan “escalated repression against its critics, marking a dramatic deterioration in its already poor rights record”.
While the EP and OSCE refuse to send missions, other observers will still monitor the elections: 465 international observers, including those from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the Parliamentary Assembly of Turkic-speaking countries (TurkPA) will monitor the elections. According to Head of the East-West Research Center Arastun Orujlu Baku´s choice for these missions is obvious as “Azerbaijan wants the electoral process to proceed without too much fuss, and to have it overseen by a Kremlin-controlled CIS mission instead of a proper international observer mission”.
French research firm Opinionpoll conducted a study of 1200 registered voters ahead of the elections, with 63% of them saying they would “certainly participate” in the elections. Asked about the most important problem the government had to tackle, 66.5% found the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh the most important problem, while 30% named the economy. YAP stated that it will focus its campaign on energy policy, regional security and anti-corruption initiatives, while opposition parties are expected to focus their campaigns on the problems of the current government.