October 2, Ali Hasanov, Azerbaijan’s presidential aide for public and political affairs said, “Elections held so far in Azerbaijan, have been democratic and fair”.
The statement came during a seminar, “Election to Azerbaijan’s Milli Majlis: The Roles and Duties of Media in the Pre-election Campaigning Process”.
Hasanov did not rule out the shortcomings but said overall, all observed elections in the country were free and fair and the upcoming elections, Hasanov noted confidently were no exception. As for the role of media, Hasanov said its role was crucial. “We regard media s the important participant of elections. Its task is to truthfully analyze the electoral environment, to become familiar with the population’s election mood and its activeness”.
“Sometimes, some circles cannot objectively assess the conclusions issued by the Central Election Commission so media’s objective assessment is priceless”.
“Media should create equal conditions for all sides, including political parties and blocks participating in elections”, said Hasanov.
According to the OSCE/ODIHR mission reports, in none of the elections since 1993, media was able to create "equal conditions for all sides" and given the track record it is unlikely the trend will change in the upcoming parliamentary elections.
The following overview is based on the OSCE/ODIHR electoral observation reports from 1995 until 2015.
1995 Parliamentary Elections
“Newspapers of all political parties, the independent press and other media have been subject to political censorship, which the authorities conceded in private conversations”.
“Opposition parties and candidates claimed that the elections were taking place in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation”.
1998 Presidential Elections
“Censorship was formally abolished and the printed media allowed to express a wide variety of views. Despite the fact that the allocation of air-time for all registered candidates complied with the Election Law, the state electronic media failed to provide balanced and neutral coverage of the main political interests in the country”.
2001 Parliamentary Elections
In 2001, on the day of the parliamentary elections “observers reported ballot stuffing, manipulated turnout results and pre-marked ballots. Additional, party proxies frequently suffered intimidation, harassment and even arrest”, read the OSCE/ODIHR final report.
Despite abolishing the Department for Protection of State Secrets in the Press and Other Media, “the media remained under pressure from the authorities and subject to non-transparent procedures when seeking broadcast licenses, arbitrary tax inspections and closures. Under such threats, many media were forced to exercise self-censorship”.
2003 Presidential Elections
In 2003, shortly after the presidential elections, which were held in October, Human Rights Watch issued a report where it said, “the deterioration of the media environment began with the pre-election period, which was marked by an increase in intimidation and harassment of journalists, attempting to report on opposition campaign activities. In September 2003, journalists from more than twelve different media outlets reported being the victims of police and provocateur assaults and having their equipment either broken or seized”.
“On October 15, election day itself, there were many incidents of harassment of journalists. Police detained and beat journalists at polling stations and officials refused to allow journalists access to polling stations”.
2005 Parliamentary Elections
The parliamentary elections in 2005 were too marred with biased media coverage. The OSCE/ODIHR report concluded, “the newscasts of state-funded television channels did not give equal or equitable coverage to the main political parties and blocs.”
“Outside the free time, all monitored electronica media, through prime time news coverage, favored the authorities and pro-government candidates”.
“The news programs on AzTV largely ignored activities of opposition candidates”. Physical attacks on journalists were fewer than during previous elections, although problems persisted. There were several cases of assaults on or detentions of journalists covering election related events”.
2005 Repeat Parliamentary Elections
“While the partial repeat parliamentary elections reflected some improvements, such as an inclusive candidate registration, a largely unimpeded campaign, and increased opportunities for participation of domestic observers, the overall conduct of the process underscores the continuing need for electoral reform”.
“The results of the OSCE/ODIHR EOM media monitoring demonstrate that the newscasts of State-funded television channels did not give equal or equitable coverage to the main political parties and blocs, thereby failing to meet their obligation under the Election Code to provide equal access”.
“All monitored electronic media, through prime time news coverage, favored the authorities and pro-government candidates”.
2008 Presidential Elections
“Despite a broad range f media operating in Azerbaijan, the overall media environment has deteriorated in recent years, in particular due to problems with media independence and the lack of pluralism in the broadcasting sector”.
“According to OSCE/ODIHR media monitoring, the news on most monitored TV stations lacked balanced both prior to and during the official campaign period, with the incumbent and the authorities receiving the bulk of relevant coverage. Public TV allocated the President three times as much coverage as all other candidates combined”.
2010 Parliamentary Elections
“A deficient candidate registration process, a restrictive political environment, unbalanced and biased media coverage, disparity in access to resources to mount an effective campaign, misuse of administrative resources as well as interference by local authorities in favor of candidates from the ruling party created an uneven playing field for candidates”.
“While a broad range of media exists in Azerbaijan, the lack of independent and objective reporting in broadcast media and scarcity of critical newspapers limit voters’ access to pluralistic views and impartial information”.
“Regional media generally did not provide objective coverage of the elections”.
“Most TV channels (apart from ANS), including public TV, covered the international election observers’ Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions selectively and in a distorted manner. Most media focused only on positive aspects of the assessment, while ignoring critical findings and shortcomings detailed in the conclusions and findings of the statement”.
2013 Presidential Elections
The October 9 presidential elections in 2013 were described “seriously flawed” by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in EUROPE (OSCE) and that “the polls ere marred by restrictive media environment” and allegations of intimidation of candidates and voters.
“Our observers received allegations of intimidation [and] witnessed even physical attacks on journalists and the lead-up to an election day which we found seriously flawed”, said Tana de Zulueta, the head of the long-term observer mission from the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR).
2015 Parliamentary Elections Needs Assessment Mission Report
“The media environment is negatively impacted by ongoing detentions, defamation lawsuits, and other forms of pressure on journalists”.
Official election campaign time kicks off October 9 and will last until October 31. As of October 2, the total number of candidates registered by the CEC reached 882.