BAKU (AFP)–Repeat elections in eleven Azerbaijani districts will take place January 7 due to widespread violations during last month’s controversial parliamentary elections–officials said on December 21. The second round of voting is widely viewed as playing a key role in deciding whether Azerbaijan will be accepted–along with its Caucasus rival Armenia–into the Council of Europe.
Ali Gasanov of the Azeri presidential administration’s socio-political department–said that an ongoing refusal by opposition parties to recognize the current parliament and participate in the vote could have a negative effect on Baku’s application. "We are–right now–on the verge of being accepted into the Council of Europe," said Gasanov. "The opposition’s refusal to participate could provoke anti- Azerbaijani forces in the Council of Europe to create certain obstacles in the admission procedure," he said.
Gasanov said that "pro-Armenian forces or the Christian faction" could create problems for Azerbaijan–a secular state of eight million where the vast majority nominally belong to the Shia sect of Islam. The official added–however–that in the end–he was confident that Azerbaijan would achieve one of its main foreign policy objectives and be accepted into the 41-member council–Europe’s main democracy and human rights body.
However–a member of the council’s Parliamentary Assembly in Strasbourg told by telephone that the question of immediate admission was "still very much open." A recent European delegation also told Azeri officials that the re-vote would have to show marked improvement over the November 5 contest–which was severely criticized by international bodies. Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said they witnessed widespread vote rigging–ballot stuffing and official intimidation.
The elections resulted in an overwhelming majority for President Heydar Aliyev’s ruling party Yeni Azerbaijan (New Azerbaijan) in the 125-seat legislature. The Council of Europe decided shortly after the contest to accept Azerbaijan and Armenia–but at the same time to delay induction until measures were taken to address voting violations. Deputies have linked the countries’ applications for fear that a policy favoring one over the other could destabilize the region.
Council officials are expected to raise the question of the two countries’ admission again at a meeting on January 17–after election observers issue their final report on the vote on January 12.