Unfortunately, a very bad «design»
This is how a co-rapporteur of the PACE Monitoring Committee Andreas Gross evaluated the Referendum 's course in Azerbaijan.
By Ò.GARIBOV / S.ABBASOV
A member of the PACE Monitoring Committee Andreas Gross visited 6 polling stations to observe the Referendum's course in Azerbaijan. «I've participated in 15 Referendums to realize that it is better to attend less number of the polling stations but to stay for longer there», Gross said in his exclusive interview to "Echo" before he left Baku on Sunday. «I visited two polling stations in Baku, two in Khachmas and two in Sumgayit».
The member of PACE noted he had no problems with visiting Azerbaijan this time. «The question of my visit stayed open till the last moment», said Gross, «However, the Parliament fulfilled all arrangement issues so that I could accomplish my mission. I am not an observer in the classical sense of this word, I am just a representative of the CE who attended the Referendum. In July we mentioned already that none of the international organizations managed to hold a serious monitoring of the process.», - Gross noted. - In this sense there is little trust in fair conduction of the Referendum."
As to his first impression, Andreas Gross stated he had impression about high number of people who came to vote. "Thus, already 40 people voted before 9 o'clock in Sumgayit and if you multiply this figure by the hours of polling's duration, then you will get not bad results. In general, atmosphere at the polling stations was better than during last elections. But it seemed to me that many people didn't know how to vote. Many of them couldn't understand the meaning of questions, they opened the curtains and asked what to do. Besides, there were cases when several people at once entered the polling cabins. That is why, I didn't feel that the polling was held "safely."
In your opinion, does this Referendum mean a step ahead or back on the way to democracy?
In diplomatic language, a step ahead means some progress. Azerbaijan's democracy is only at the beginning of its development and that is why it is impossible to make a step back. There is possibility only for progress, big one or not very big.
I think if someone decides to write a book about development of democracy in Azerbaijan, he or she will include this Referendum into the book also. I know no country that included 39 amendments into its Constitution within 2 months, nevertheless for the first time the Azerbaijanian population had an opportunity to see public debates of the government and opposition on TV. I believe that experience gained during this Referendum means big progress. However, I am sorry to admit that Azerbaijan is in the list of the countries that are using Referendums in not a very sensible way. People should discuss all issues together. This way politicians and discussed issues become closer to people. Referendum is a good method to educate people. Referendums are useful for integration of society as well as for legitimacy of authorities. But it takes some time and "good design" for a Referendum. The referendum that was held in Azerbaijan on the 24th of August is "a symbol of bad design". Because, in fact, the polling hasn't brought to substantial changes in society's integration or in raise of authorities' legitimacy.
I really hope that next time when authorities decide to hold another Referendum in Azerbaijan, they will discuss it with those who know how to hold such events. It will help to avoid negative nuances.
How are you going to reflect everything you saw in Azerbaijan on August 24 in the report of the PACE Monitoring Group?
I don't know yet as I am not the only one who makes this document. But I can tell you what I will mention in the report. First of all, there will be my impressions that I've told about already. Secondly, I will note that I met an observer from the opposition party who told me about a bribe that was offered to him. They wanted him to sign a protocol saying that the number of voters at his polling station corresponded the official figures. He also told me that the information I was given about the voters didn't meet real figures. According to him, same people voted many times at different polling stations. In my opinion, all these things are caused by absence of international observation. The number of observers from the opposition was not enough to fill this gap.
I also have concrete figures of polling in Sumgayit as I stayed there till 1 am. 755 out of 849 ballots, in other words 80%, voted for all amendments. 30 people said "no" to all points. And only 63 people voted differently. Those 63 people voted against cancellation of the proportional system, as well as against elections of the President on the system 50% + 1 voice and against transfer of a President's authorities from a Parliament's speaker to a Prime Minister. Having studied their choice, I realized that these 63 persons are important for the future development of democracy in Azerbaijan because they know how to read correctly and how to choose.
And the fact that lots of people voted "for" all amendments indicates that some arguments of the opposition are absolutely true. 80 % is too much. These results show that when people deceive, they say big lies that are not very smart. Clever people would never take such steps.
Judging by these figures, maybe we should agree with the statements of some government officials saying that Azerbaijan is not ready for democracy?
It is not true that a country can be unready for democracy! You should make a first step even if you think that you are not ready for democracy. First time when a person enters the water, he doesn't know how to swim and he begins to learn right in the water. Democracy is an element of human rights, it is an important factor of human dignity. Children are not born democrats, they learn to be democrats during their lives. Although your country got rid of the totalitarian system only 12 years ago, it doesn't mean that people are not ready for democracy. Switzerland, for instance, came through the oligarchic system on its way to democracy. You should start these processes now to see any improvements after some time. And if you do nothing now, then the situation will only worsen in the nearest future.
When is your next visit to Azerbaijan? And when will a report of Gross and Kassan be discussed in Paris?
The only date that is known so far is the 4th of September when the next meeting of the monitoring group will be held. We are going to discuss an initial draft of the report before that date. And then we'll decide if our report will be included into agenda of the PACE's September session. As to my next visit to Azerbaijan, I believe that co-rapporteurs should visit the country they make a report about twice a year. Next time we come here, we'll focus only on the issue of political prisoners. I hope to visit Nardaran finally if this visit takes place. Nardaran problem may become one more reason for us to return to Azerbaijan.