16. Feb. 2005
«Milli Mejlis is very dependent
on president's administration»
The PACE monitoring reporter calls up the parliamentarians to think about their people and not about the "armchairs".
The visit of PACE monitoring co-reporters Messrs Andreas Gross and Andreas Herkel to Azerbaijan finished on the last week. Their visit programme was very rich. During the visit they negotiated with the heads of NGOs, political parties and the governmental officials. The basic topic of all meetings was the process of preparations for the coming parliamentary elections in our country. In the framework of this topic the negotiators dwelled upon a number of points connected with those elections. The Swiss Parliamentarian Mr.Andreas Gross, one of co-reporters spoke about results and details of talks held in Baku.
Question: Could you compare the pre-election period for the presidential elections of 2003 with the process that is taking place in our country before the parliamentary elections? What kind of changes do you see?
Reply: Unfortunately, in 2003 we saw a lot of mistakes. In 2004, we presented to your Government some proposals to eliminate the difficulties in future. We sincerely hoped that during the municipal elections on 17 December 2004 our proposals would be taken into account. However, unfortunately, we have not witnessed this. In this connection, we have started the preparations for the parliamentary elections so early. This time we are acting in more insisting manner.
What will this imply?
No doubt that this year we will be making the visits more frequently i.e. every two months. At the same time, I would like to remind that once we had already considered the possibility of depriving the Azerbaijan delegation from mandate in PACE. On the last January session we did not deep into this issue because of PACE deliberations on Karabakh. We did not want to influence on the process of discussions. But we declared that if the things did not go the way we wanted and our proposals would not be taken into account we could consider again the issue of deprivation of your delegation mandate in April or June of this year. We are compelled to do this as we do not see any support from our Azeri colleagues in PACE. Besides, we do not think that the Parliament in Azerbaijan is strong enough. The highest legislative body of your country is very dependent on the President's Administration. The Parliament is an autonomous and independent institution. And in democratic country there should be clear delimitation between such institutions.
Why have you come to conclusion that the members of our delegation in PACE do not sufficiently support you?
Since November 2000 we have made 18 visits to Azerbaijan. I cannot say that nothing has changed. Some members of Azeri delegation now understand us better. But here arises a question: to what extent they are competent to change something? In this case, the problem is not the Azeri delegation but rather - the parliament of Azerbaijan that is too weak. But now the parliament of Azerbaijan got wonderful opportunity to prove its strength and power. One of our most important demands is the introduction of modifications to the Electoral Code. The elected representatives can display themselves, introduce positive changes to the Electoral Code and adopt it in this form. I think that by introducing the changes to the Electoral Code the members of Parliament should think about their people and not about their armchairs.
Do you mean the revision of the composition of the Central Electoral Commission (CEC)?
The composition of the Central Electoral Commission should be modified. Each electoral commission should be independent and ensure that the elections will be fair and democratic. Our basic wish in reforming of electoral legislation is that the electoral commissions should be fairly balanced between the opposition and the authorities. In addition, the NGOs should get the access to the process of monitoring the elections. The electoral commissions are like the referee on the football match between Azerbaijan and Armenia. The mentioned parties cannot submit the referee to the match because the referees should be independent and neutral with respect to both parties.
In January some opposition parties submitted the set of proposals as to reforming of electoral legislation of Azerbaijan. Are you familiar with them? Can these proposals ensure the democratic elections?
I have already received the mentioned document from two sources. I think that in case of adoption of new Electoral Code the Parliament should be guided by consensus option: it is necessary to take into account the proposals of opposition, Council of Europe, Venice Commission. Even Central Electoral Commission proposes to modify the Electoral Code. The representatives of CEC are interested to balance the influence of the Executive power on electoral commissions.
Have you been told about this in CEC?
Yes, we did not know that they have proposals for reforming of electoral system. Speaking frankly, we were positively surprised.
But before, it was emphasized that the Electoral Code was adopted two years ago and it is not necessary to modify it. In addition, the present Code was adopted with the consent of the opposition and different international organizations ...
Yes, we also got information about this from Azeri Mass Media. And today (12 February, 2005 - author) on the meeting with Mr. Ramiz Mehdiyev, the Head of President's Administration I asked the following question: "In the newspapers you say that you are not going to discuss this. Then, why have we come here?". But Mr. Mehdiyev told me that the newspapers were wrong. Besides, he said that Government was ready to discuss the changes to the Electoral Code.
After presidential elections of 2003 and following events the opposition is blamed in passivity. Moreover, its activity is insensible. Do you think that it is ready to adequately take part in parliamentary elections?
Even the Government understands that there are not enough conditions for holding absolutely democratic elections. The right of citizens for free assembly during the elections is like water for a fish. This right is one of the most important civil rights and not only during the elections. After presidential elections of 2003 the opposition was not allowed even once to hold the mass actions. And this is reflected in all our documents. We have been speaking about this for 15 months. But the Government of Azerbaijan ignored our words. Besides, many opposition representatives are still in prisons. Therefore, the issue of political prisoners is very closely linked with the issue of democratization of Azerbaijan. During this visit I spent four hours in the prisons of Azerbaijan. I met with the heads of opposition parties. As I understand there was no ground to imprison them. In this connection, during the official meetings with the members of your Government we asked to pardon them on 21 March.
During your visit you mentioned the issue of formation of Public TV in our country. How do you see this issue?
As a right to free assembly the Public TV is also very important during election period. There are many talks concerning Public TV. Some people say that it will be set up in March and others in September, and some people do not even believe that the creation of democratic TV is possible here. If the channel is going to be set up in September this will be late for parliamentary elections and there will be no use of it for the elections.
Is your anxiety connected only with the date of setting up of Public TV or is there anything else?
We are anxious for possible delay of setting up of Public TV and the lack of pluralism therein. We are also worried by possible shortage of financial basis of TV channel. Besides, we have the questions as to whether there is going to function the State TV alongside with Public TV. Though from the beginning it was agreed that the State TV will be transformed into Public one. There is no country where the State TV would function alongside with Public one. May be Azerbaijan will invent the new practice. Everywhere the Public TV is the basis for free and democratic elections because there we can admit the debates among the parties of different opinion. People should understand that the truth belongs not always to one party, it can belong to different people.
You underlined that before it was agreed to set up the public TV on the basis of State TV. This was also said by the Council of Europe experts. But as we see the Public TV will be set up on the basis of AZTV-2. Besides, the setting up of Public TV is the commitment of Azerbaijan before the Council of Europe. Will such Public TV be regarded by CoE as non-implementation of or partial implementation of commitment undertaken? What will be the reaction?
As a result we will have to judge on the basis of facts and not the structure. May be Azerbaijan will find its way of co-existence of Public TV and State TV, which will become the great catalyst for development of democracy?! During the elections the (ODIHR) OSCE will prepare the report on the basis of each minute of on-air transmission. Then we will see how Public TV and State TV co-exist in Azerbaijan.
You mean you admit the parallel functioning of Public TV and State TV during the elections 2005?
We have been presented with a "fait accompli" that the State TV and Public TV will be functioning in parallel. And only after elections we will be able to say how this worked out.
During your visit you had a conversation in the Constitutional Court ...
It is already a year that the Constitutional Court gets individual complaints and the existence of the problem in the field of freedom of assembly should have entailed the relevant application thereto. It seems that there has been no correctly formed complaint that would enable to examine it in the Constitutional Court! At the same time I would like to note that the Constitutional Court has enough competence. And I think that it can intervene in such issues, which are connected with the violation of the fundamental rights i.e. the right to free assembly. The Constitutional Court can examine the results of the elections: whether they are fair or not. Therefore, it would be wonderful if the Constitutional Court could solve such issues through referring to the Constitution before the elections.
You have visited the prisons and met with political prisoners. What are you impressions and how far is Azerbaijan from the solution of this issue?
I have met with different activists of the opposition parties, who had been condemned for October events of 2003. The people with whom I met had been imprisoned for their political convictions. As regards the solution of the problem as a whole, Azerbaijan is still very far from the solution of this issue. Before solving the problem with the old political prisoners we get the new ones. This is reasoned by the lack of freedom of expression and independent courts. During our meeting with the Minister of Justice we underlined that we can present the names of judges who had taken the bribes and adopted unfair decisions. In his turn, he underlined that he would examine this.
P.S. The author of the present article expresses his gratitude to Ms. Ayten Shirinova, the Head of the Information Center of the Council of Europe in Azerbaijan for helping to arrange this interview.
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