"Echo", AZ

«… If Ilham Aliyev … decides to slightly stand aside from politics this will not bring anything good to your people.»

By the opinion of PACE Monitoring Committee co-reporters Andreas Gross and Andreas Herkel «the entourage of President is more conservative than he».

On Wednesday the official visit of PACE Monitoring Committee co-reporters Andreas Gross and Andreas Herkel to Azerbaijan finished. That visit was the second voyage of PACE representatives to Azerbaijan within this year. Upon finishing the visit the co-reporters gave extensive interview to a number of representatives of local Mass Media, including our newspaper.

By S. Rzayev

Question: During your previous visit in your interview to our newspaper you said that the authorities had told you that they agree to introduce the modifications into electoral legislation of AR. However, the governmental representatives noted that certain modifications are possible but they have technical nature and the modification of principle of formation of election commissions is out of question …

Mr. Gross: We know about such statements. Moreover, it was said that no modification would be introduced. But now the government notes that some modifications are nevertheless possible. May be they will be less than we expected but more than we hoped.

You mean the modification of principle of formation of election commissions?

Mr. Gross: We cannot completely exclude this. As were told the list of possible options of reformation of electoral legislation will be shortly submitted to Venice Commission and after this we will be also able to get acquainted with it. Speaking frankly, the official structures of Azerbaijan displayed the similar position during Presidential elections of 2003. Even that time the Venice Commission insisted on significant modifications but Mr.Shahin Aliyev, the Head of Department for Legal Expertise said that they would not admit such modifications. I guess one has to understand that in this case Mr.Sh.Aliyev is not the most responsible person. He is far from being "general" he is a "captain" for best in this "struggle".

Mr. Herkel: Everything will depend on procedure of introduction of these modifications. It is quite possible that the authorities will try to introduce just slight modifications without touching the principle of formation of election commissions. In principle, the democratic elections can be held also under present electoral legislation. But under circumstances existing presently in Azerbaijan this looks doubtful because political forces do not trust each other. And therefore it would be better if election commissions would be more balanced between political forces of country. The absence of such changes increases the possibility that coming elections will not be fair and honest.

Just recently the US Ambassador to Azerbaijan in his interview to local Mass Media stated that in order to avoid the clashes during parliamentary elections the opposition and government should sign an agreement. Do you think that such an agreement is necessary?

Mr. Gross: In principle it is very good proposal and we fully support it. The only question is whether this idea is realizable. May be the signing of such agreement between opposition and government is unlikely but it could be possible to realize such a project between political parties. The ruling party could be a guarantee of observance of the laws on freedom of assembly for opposition and giving them an access to Mass Media. In its turn the opposition would guarantee the observance of calmness.

Mr. Herkel: We are very grateful to Mr. Ambassador for this proposal. It is necessary that the representatives of political parties of Azerbaijan would sit at the same table. The concrete result of these negotiations and signatures under agreements are not the main purpose. It is more important that the dialogue would start. Unfortunately, in Azerbaijan there are a lot of negative personal relations between politicians. The setting of dialogue between parties can contribute to creation of atmosphere of trust. And therefore we permanently emphasize that the opposition should sit not in prison but in parliament.

Do you think that in Azerbaijan there are elements which can contribute to repeating here the revolutionary events, which took place in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan?

Mr. Gross: Unfortunately, recently there are spoken very often about revolution. I call upon you to respect more this notion. It is difficult for me to compare the situation in Ukraine with situation in your country. There, the pre-revolutionary situation has been developing for last seven-eight years. In Ukraine they have strong parliament, where opposition was presented, and strong presidential power. And in Azerbaijan you have week parliament, strong President and not less strong ministers who surround him. Just recently I was in Moldova during elections. There the opposition also was speaking a lot about Ukrainian revolution, they also had orange flags etc. But in result … You know, Mr. Yuschenko is the leader of Ukrainian revolution, he is political phenomenon. He was growing and developing long time, he was a member of Ukrainian government. Therefore, it is impossible to create Yuschenko within three-four months. In Azerbaijan there is the highest level of presidential system and in such system the parliamentary elections do not decide a lot.
And therefore, to realize serous changes it is necessary to create strong opposition party that first enters into parliament and then gradually obtain the positions. After this the power can step-by-step pass to the hands of opposition. Undoubtedly, the parliamentary pre-election conditions of 2005 significantly differ from the conditions of previous parliamentary elections of 2000. At the same time, it is necessary to take into account that in Azerbaijan there is very rich elite. I guess, you do not think that they will collapse and break up? If they feel that they can loose the power they will display armed resistance.

Mr. Herkel: I was monitoring the elections in Georgia and Ukraine. In both cases the falsification of results of voting was obvious. After there was an attempt to hold the elections anew. Nowadays, both people and international organizations display another approach to elections. And therefore, we always propose to go through evolution but not revolution. If the results of elections in Azerbaijan are inadequate then there will take place quite dangerous situation. In this connection we hope very much that there will be introduced relevant modifications into electoral legislation, be restored the right to freedom of assembly etc. But if all of this does not take place everything will depend on reaction of people. The most important is to avoid the violence.

Mr. Gross: During our last meeting with President he said that he had agreed that the famous American Research Institute would hold an exit poll during parliamentary elections. In case of realization of this project the results of this poll will serve as weighty argument in the hands of international organizations. Similar exit poll was held during parliamentary elections in Georgia. Therefore, international community was sure that the results were falsified.

Mr. Herkel: The citizens of Azerbaijan should know their rights, know whether their names are in voting lists, monitor the voting etc. During elections in Georgia almost near each ballot-box there were standing young people who were carefully monitoring and fixing the process of voting. They were not representing international organizations. They were representing Georgian people.

After meeting with official structures you noted that you had in strict manner posed the question concerning implementation of the right to freedom of assembly. Before your visit the authorities had already indicated the time from which the rallies would be authorized. The mass rallies will be authorized with the start of agitation campaign in June. But opposition insists on sooner dates …

Mr. Herkel: We are sure that the conditions for elections should be created at least for six months before elections including the right to hold the rallies. However, the government insists the mass actions would be authorized with the start of agitation campaign. This is wrong position. During our conversation the head of executive power of Baku said that in principle the holding of a rally in Baku is possible but, according to him, in case of any provocation the organizers will not be able to restore the public order. In response we noted that the order should be protected by law enforcement bodies and not by organizers of mass rallies.

Mr. Gross: As we see, the right to freedom of assembly will be restored only in July of this year. Of course, we do not accept this. The right to freedom of assembly is the inviolable right of citizens in democratic society and it cannot be restricted by any time-limits.

During your previous visit Mr. Gross noted that you (co-reporters - author) had been told that the State Television would be functioning alongside with Public TV and that you can give your estimates only after elections when it will be clear how these structures were functioning. Presently, the Public TV is on the stage of setting-up but even now there are being expressed the dissatisfactions. Are you going to try to change anything before elections?

Mr. Gross: On June session of PACE we are going to submit the report on functioning of democratic institutions in Azerbaijan. The issue concerning the functioning of Public TV will be reflected in that document. We are disturbed by the way the PTV is being created. For instance, in Moldova there is also the PTV but it does not differ from the State one. Therefore we are going to wait and see the real product of Public TV. But the fact that this institution has not been set-up yet indicates that this is one more failed attempt to create the democratic institution in Azerbaijan.

Mr. Herkel: The Public TV exists only on paper. But we hope that this structure will nevertheless start functioning before elections and implement its basic functions. We are scared by formal approach of Azerbaijan side to the duties. As a rule, they are implemented on paper but in fact nothing happens. Similar situation is not only in respect of Public TV.

This is not your first visit to Azerbaijan and you met with officials several times. Do you see any reformatory forces in government? And what do you think about last changes in judicial system of Azerbaijan?

Mr. Gross: This is my 19th visit to your country since 2000. Despite this it is very difficult to identify all forces in your country. Therefore, it would be too simple to put a question about reformers and conservators. Ilham Aliyev has supporters who are ready to help him to implement his plans and declared principles. But there are also some persons who stand against this and hamper the process. I can say that Ilham Aliyev is more democratic than his father. But he is inferior to him as a politician. The true politician is a man who can devote to politics 14-15 hours per day. A man who cannot function within this rhythm of life does not see the politics as the basic purpose of his life. And in this Ilham Aliyev differs from Heydar Aliyev. Therefore he should be surrounded by progressive and intellectual people. But in case if Ilham Aliyev gets tired of this and decides to slightly stand aside from politics this will not bring anything good to your people. Because his entourage is more conservative than he. As regards the changes during conversation the President noted that he had already changed half of heads of local executive authorities. He also noted that the recent changes in judicial system are not final.

In March the Head of State pardoned the persons convicted for October events of 2003. Among them there are opposition leaders who want to submit their candidacy on parliamentary elections. But the conviction in force disables them to do this. What is going to be your position in this issue?

Mr. Gross: I am sure that those seven persons could be wonderful members of parliament. The legislative body could be a good school for them.

Mr. Herkel: It is impossible to say that the issue of political prisoners has been settled unless those persons are still guilty and convicted: this restricts their political activity. Therefore, we hope before November elections the situation will change. Otherwise this will not positively contribute to democratic processes in country.

Andreas Gross

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