Azerbaijan: Webcams used for "transparent" municipal elections
|Publication Date||23 December 2009|
|Cite as||EurasiaNet, Azerbaijan: Webcams used for "transparent" municipal elections, 23 December 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4b966e6dc.html [accessed 19 April 2014]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
Mina Miradova: 12/23/09
Azerbaijan's election officials are betting on 500 webcams installed in polling stations for the country's December 23 municipal elections to reassure wary voters that the elections are a clean and fair vote. Some election monitors, however, worry that the technology merely facilitates government scrutiny of voter preferences.
Webcams were also used during the October 2008 presidential elections, but the images they captured were not accessible from the Internet.
Central Election Committee (CEC) spokesperson Azer Sariyev said that people from any part of the world could watch the voting by visiting the CEC's official website where live video feeds from polling stations would be broadcast from 8am Baku time until the signature of the voting results' final protocol.
"Webcams are broadcasting the election process non-stop in the polling stations, including the ballot-tabulation process, except for in polling booths, where voters fill in ballots in private because the law protects the secrecy of the voting process," he said.
Azerbaijan is the first country in the world to make such use of webcams, Sariyev claimed. The cameras will be present in 10 percent of all tabulation rooms nationwide.
Election workers on December 21 set up 189 webcams in Baku's polling stations, 289 in regions outside the capital and 25 webcams in polling stations in the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic. The election includes 31,861 candidates running for 15,682 five-year seats in 1,718 municipal governments nationwide.
But the head of one non-governmental organization worries that webcams can be used as tools to threaten voters.
"Local executive bodies and organizations that are financed from the state budget instruct their employees for whom they should give their vote and frighten them by the webcams that record their participation and whom they vote for," charged Bashir Suleymanly, executive director of the Elections Monitoring and Democracy Teaching Center.
"The majority of voters poorly understand what the webcam is and what is the purpose of its installation," he claimed. "Therefore, many voters believe in this bluff [about webcams providing for a clean vote] because they are afraid of losing their jobs."
Baku voters interviewed by EurasiaNet expressed skepticism that the webcams would do much to change some standard election practices. Azerbaijan has a long history of troubled elections, none of which has been recognized internationally as a free and fair vote.
Pensioner Mehti Mirabov called the webcams' installation a mere formality. "They throw dust in your eyes," Mirabov scoffed. "The ballot includes the names of about 100 candidates. I have seen or heard of none of them before or what they are planning to do for us. Seats have been already allocated."
Sara Bashirova, a Baku schoolteacher, highlighted another familiar practice from elections past. Bashirova said that she was instructed by her school to take part in the elections and "to call schoolchildren's parents and get at least 10 parents to participate."
The CEC's Sariyev conceded that a transparent vote does not depend on the webcams alone.
"Not all countries in the world use webcams and it does not mean that transparency is absent in these countries. There are various means and methods to provide transparency, including free access of media to the voting process and involvement of observers," he stated. Some 50,000 monitors are observing Azerbaijan's nationwide municipal elections.
CEC Chairman Mazahir Panahov asserted in a December 22 press conference that "[t]here is nothing for which the Central Election Commission should be accused." Preparations for the vote were carried out "at the highest level" of professionalism and encountered "no problem," he claimed.
The election run-up has not been conflict-free, however. Some vote monitors took issue with a November 16 public remark by Panahov that most Azerbaijanis support only "the one political force that is well-known to everyone and everybody has already reconciled with this" as an election plug for President Ilham Aliyev's Yeni Azerbaijan Party.
More than half of the candidates ( 17,363) represent Yeni Azerbaijan. Over 2,000 candidates represent another 30 parties, including 356 from the Umid Party, 298 from the Musavat Party and 37 from the Popular Front of Azerbaijan Party, all opposition parties. The remaining 12,500 candidates are not party-affiliated, according to CEC data.
In a December 21 interim monitoring report, the EMDTC contended that pressure from local executive governments had decreased the number of opposition candidates taking part in the polls.
The opposition Umid Party has sued Panahov for the rejection of 27 complaints about the non-registration of 82 candidates for the municipal elections. The party demands that the votes in these constituencies be annulled, the 82 candidates registered and Panahov censored for alleged abuse of power. CEC spokesperson Sariyev told APA news agency that the lawsuit would go to court and termed the case "groundless."
Editor's Note: Mina Miradova is a freelance reporter based in Baku.