‘Democratic and transparent’ – Anglu Farrugia’s verdict on Azeri sham elections
How does our Speaker's assessment of the Azerbaijan elections tally with the reports from human rights organisations of what happens in the oil-rich nation?
22 October 2013, 12:00am
Speaker Anglu Farrugia described elections in Azerbaijan, which yielded a staggering 85% to incumbent autocrat Ilham Aliyev, "fair, democratic and transparent" during a meeting with his Azeri counterpart, Ogtay Asadov, after last week's election.
Farrugia's assessment conflicted with that of observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe who said they had also documented "widespread irregularities, including ballot-box stuffing and what appeared to be fraudulent counting".
The OSCE reported clear indications of ballot-box stuffing in 37 polling stations, and that counting was assessed negatively in an unprecedented 58% of the stations observed.
Farrugia was monitoring these elections just a few days before the ElectroGas consortium, which includes SOCAR Trading, a company owned by the Azeri government, won a bid to supply Malta with natural gas for 18 years.
Farrugia was monitoring the elections on behalf of the European Academy for Election observation (EUAC). The delegation also included Nationalist MP Frederick Azzopardi, who was also present in the meeting with Asadov.
EUAC is a Belgian-registered non-profit organisation, which reported that the election had "consolidated democracy". The European Voice reports that the delegation was sponsored by the Berlin-based Society for the Promotion of German-Azerbaijani Relations (GEFDAB, which paid for flights and accommodation). In 2012, Der Spiegel described GEFDAB as a "lobbying group funded by Azerbaijan".
Pro-government TopNews Azerbaijan reported a meeting between Farrugia and the speaker of the Azerbaijani Parliament, Ogtay Asadov.
Asadov noted that it was "the indicator of the trust of the people in their president".
Farrugia is reported as saying that he was an eyewitness to the fact that "the election process was held in a democratic manner".
"Voters came and easily cast their ballots. It is one of the most important things. We exchanged views with the OSCE, Russia and US monitors. After talks, our unanimous opinion was that the election was held in a fair, democratic and transparent manner."
Farrugia's assessment tallied with that of observers from other delegations, including a group of former members of the United States House of Representatives as well as monitors from the parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the European Parliament, who described voting as clean and efficient. Aliyev, thanking voters in a televised statement, called the elections "free and transparent".
Farrugia's assessment conflicted with that of a prominent delegation of international election observers which sharply criticised Azerbaijan's presidential election as unfair and rife with fraud, amid aggressive efforts by the Azerbaijani government and its allies to portray the vote as legitimate.
According to the New York Times, the split in assessments reflects "an aggressive lobbying effort by the Aliyev government to portray the election as fair".
The New York Times reports that this effort was fully on display at the news conference held by OSCE observers, where journalists from government-controlled news outlets jumped up and fiercely denounced the negative findings, loudly applauded one another, shouted down the official speakers and largely prevented other questions from being asked.
The European Greens have described the report prepared by the European Parliament's election observation as a "sham".
"The report failed to acknowledge the stifling environment of these elections, which included well-documented human rights violations, harassment of the political opposition and restriction of fundamental democratic principles," the Greens said.
In a strongly worded editorial, the European Voice described a group of MEPs monitoring these elections as an embarrassment to the European Parliament.
"Crass stupidity or petty venality seem to be the only plausible explanations for a member of the European Parliament choosing to go to Baku as an unofficial observer of Azerbaijan's sham presidential election last week."
Ilham Aliyev became president in 2003 after the death of his father, Heydar - who has been in power since 1993.
According to the New Internationalist, Aliyev's rule was entrenched by the signing of what was dubbed 'the contract of the century' in 1994.
This brought 11 corporations, including BP as the operating company, into a consortium to extract oil from the Caspian Sea. This gave the Aliyev family vast wealth and important international allies, and freed them from reliance on citizens' taxes.
This time around, the election was contested by 10 presidential hopefuls; but most of the candidates were pro-government stooges who used their allotted campaign time to talk in favour of the autocrat. There was only one serious opposition candidate: Camil Hasanli. This professor of history was the replacement choice of the National Council of Democratic Forces after their original candidate, the filmmaker Rustam Ibragimbekov, was disqualified on the grounds of his dual Russian citizenship.
Amnesty International reported that "harassment, intimidation, ill-treatment, arbitrary arrests, fabricated charges and unfair trials" were all part of the arsenal the Azerbaijani authorities used in a "downward spiral of oppression" in the run up to the 9 October presidential elections.
"With new arrests of civil society activists reported almost daily, it's hard to keep up with the sheer number and the speed at which dissenters are being persecuted at the moment," said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International's Europe and Central Asia Director.
"The persecution is so widespread and frequent it's difficult to assess just how bad the current situation really is."
Amnesty reports that 14 people were being held as prisoners of conscience. "These people are currently behind bars solely for expressing their views or taking peaceful action."
James Debono is MaltaToday's chief reporter on environment, planning and land use issues, ...
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