WASHINGTON – Azerbaijani Ambassador Hafiz Pashayev has assured leaders of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission) that President Heydar Aliev is determined to hold democratic elections this year after scores of citizens were arrested and injured for speaking out against the incumbent government.
In a series of meetings over the past week with Commission Chairman Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), Ranking Member Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) and Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA), Ambassador Pashayev discussed preparations for November’s parliamentary election and the growing tensions in Azerbaijan between the government and the opposition. The discussions were arranged at the initiative of the Azerbaijani side. In fact, the Helsinki Commission will hold a hearing on Elections, Democratization and Human Rights in Azerbaijan on Thursday, May 25.
“The Helsinki Commission, which has carefully followed elections in Azerbaijan for the last decade, welcomed the opportunity to meet with Ambassador Pashayev,” said Chairman Smith. “After several elections which did not meet OSCE standards, the November parliamentary election is critical to the further development of democratization in Azerbaijan, as well as the country’s stability.”
On April 29, opposition parties demanding changes in the election law and the composition of the Central Election Commission organized unsanctioned rallies in Baku, in which scores were arrested and injured. Rep. Hoyer said, “The Commission is extremely concerned about the violent confrontations on April 29. Future rallies are planned, with the next one scheduled for May 20. It is imperative that freedom of assembly be safeguarded while Azerbaijan’s authorities and opposition parties work out an arrangement that will avert potential clashes.”
Ambassador Pashayev assured Commission members that President Heydar Aliev is determined to hold democratic elections in November. He said that the authorities are willing to take opposition concerns into account and meet the opposition half way. Ambassador Pashayev expressed confidence that agreement would be reached on holding demonstrations and, with the intercession of the OSCE’s Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), a compromise will be found on the election law and the Central Election Commission.
Rep. Pitts welcomed Ambassador Pashayev’s assurances: “The experience of the past elections has resulted in deep distrust between opposition parties and the government. This election offers a chance to overcome that legacy and consolidate Azerbaijani society,” he said.
This week, ODIHR representatives will be in Baku for meetings with the authorities and opposition parties, and will offer suggestions about reforming the Central Election Commission. Chairman Smith said, “The Helsinki Commission will follow with keen interest the progress of the negotiations. We hope to see a parliamentary election in November that is free and fair, in which all sides can accept the official results.”