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Rep. Christopher H. Smith, Chairman
Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Co-Chairman
For Immediate Release
May 26, 2000


(Washington) - Azerbaijani Government officials announced Thursday that Azerbaijan’s government has accepted in principle proposals to agree with the opposition about independent members of the Central Election Commission in advance of the November parliamentary election. The announcement was made during a hearing of the United States Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (better known as the Helsinki Commission). Azerbaijan’s Ambassador Hafiz Pashayev, accompanied by several experts who arrived from Baku for the hearing, said that negotiations between the sides, with the active mediation of the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), would continue about the Central Election Commission and the election law. An ODIHR press release issued before the hearing noted that progress has been made on various contentious points but that more is needed for Azerbaijan’s election law to meet OSCE standards. In essence, the agreement allows either side to veto candidates put forward by the other side. Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) expressed appreciation for the government’s conciliatory gesture. “We welcome the announcement that government and opposition will both have to agree on independent members of the Central Elections Commission,” Chairman Smith said. “This step will promote the holding of an election that all sides in Azerbaijan see as fair.” Previous elections in Azerbaijan, which the OSCE has characterized as falling short of OSCE standards, have left a legacy of deep distrust between the government and the opposition. The upcoming election offers an opportunity to overcome that legacy. Helsinki Commission Member Rep. Joseph Pitts (R-VA) said, “It is essential for both sides to be involved in the election’s administration for the election to be considered fair. I support the ODIHR’s efforts to craft a compromise between the government and the opposition.” In addition to Ambassador Pashayev, former President and current Popular Front Chairman Abulfaz Elchibey also testified at the Helsinki Commission hearing, on “Elections, Democracy and Human Rights in Azerbaijan.” National Independence Party member Nazim Imanov, Mussavat Party Chairman and former Parliament Speaker Isa Gambar and Rasul Guliev, former Parliament Speaker and currently Co-Chairman of the Azerbaijan Democratic Party testified as well. During their testimony, recorded by a freelance camera man hired by the Azerbaijani Embassy, opposition leaders voiced concern that the video would be used to report only the comments reflecting positively on the government while excluding testimony unfavorable to the government. Chairman Smith replied that television reports should contain a full accounting of issues discussed before the Helsinki Commission. “I would hope the broadcast in Azerbaijan will show that this hearing was about our concerns about political prisoners and the lack of human rights,” Smith said. U.S. State Department officials Clifford Bond and Ambassador Daniel Fried also testified before the Helsinki Commission hearing.
Media Contact: Ben Anderson
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