Executive Order of the President on Improvement of the Election Practices in the Republic of Azerbaijan, May 11, 2005

Conduction of free and democratic elections, as well as existence of relevant legislation which allows to hold such elections are among the main components of democratic society building. In this light, necessary legislative basis have been formed in Azerbaijan for the conduction of fair and transparent elections.

The Election Code, which was elaborated in collaboration with leading international organizations, and discussions regarding which was held involving broad spectrum of society, reflecting principles and norms of modern democratic elections provides solid legal basis for the conduction of elections in line with international standards.

Authorities closely cooperated with Venice Commission of the Council of Europe, OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) and International Foundation of Electoral Systems (IFES) in developing Election Code. As a result of cooperation with the mentioned organizations since 2002 all their recommendations regarding the draft Election Code had been incorporated into the document. In December 2002 the draft Election Code was discussed in roundtables organized by OSCE/ODIHR with participation of representatives of Azerbaijani Government, opposition, international organizations and society. As a result of those roundtables which were aired on television the society obtained information regarding draft Election Code. As a logical consequence of the taken measures, the Election Code was adopted in May 2003 and took effect after the President signed it.
The most recent amendments to the Election Code were introduced in the Plenary session of MIlli Majlis held in May 2008. Those amendments are to take effect in the upcoming days after they are approved by the President.

The Election Code defines rules of conduction of Presidential, Parliamentary and local elections, as well as referendums. At the same time, the Election Code comprises principles of establishment and functioning of Central Election Commission and lower level election commissions. In comparison with all previous laws, the Election Code being more solid legal basis for conduction of transparent and democratic elections, allowed to improve all aspects of elections, including candidate registration and the activity of election commissions.

After the adoption of Election Code the first elections conducted in Azerbaijan was Presidential Elections held on October 15, 2003. The fact that electoral campaign accompanied with high political activeness was characterized by peaceful and stable environment should be pointed out separately, as a positive feature. All candidates in the Presidential elections were provided with equal conditions necessary for appropriate conduction of electoral campaign. It should be pointed out that the abovementioned factor, as well as conduction of active electoral campaign, technical readiness to the elections and the activity of Central and lower-level electoral commissions were reflected in the report of International Election Observation Mission consisting of OSCE/ODIHR, Council of Europe and OSCE Parliamentary Assembly as positive features.

At the same time, the Government of Azerbaijan accepted that some shortcomings were encountered during elections. But these irregularities were not tendentious character, and sometimes occurred as a result of instigation actions. Relevant investigations were undertaken regarding irregularities registered by international observers. Consequently, election results in 694 precincts were invalidated for irregularities observed.

OSCE/ODIHR issued Final Report on Presidential Elections and it contains different features regarding Presidential elections. It should be pointed out that the Government of Azerbaijan conducted thorough investigations regarding the information reflected in the report and as a result of these investigations the opinion of Azerbaijan on the Final Report had been produced and submitted to the Council of Europe and the OSCE.

On November 6, 2005, Parliamentary elections were held in the Republic of Azerbaijan on the basis of the same Election Code.

With voters' attendance close to 47% and a number of innovations introduced for the first time in Azerbaijan's 15 years of independence, these elections re-affirmed a resolute departure from the ways and practices of the past. With a sound legislative basis enhanced considerably by President's May 11 and October 25 Executive Orders, the elections featured a number of pre-election and election-day practices of advanced democratic nature, for the first time applied in Azerbaijan, including use of voter-cards, publishing voters' lists, inking voters' fingers to prevent multiple voting, conducting independent exit-polls, lifting remaining restrictions on monitoring the election by some foreign entity-sponsored local NGOs, etc.

Encouraging steps by the Government, including permitting opposition and ruling parties to hold public rallies on equal conditions, providing both free and paid air time for all candidates irrespective of their views and political affiliation, warning local executive authorities against any interference into the process resulted in creation of transparent and fair conditions, thus allowed for over 2,000 candidates to register.

On the election day, observed by some 1,500 international and about 17,000 local observers, the electorate's will was clearly and freely manifested, showing improvements over previous elections, as indicated by the monitors of International Election Observation Mission, despite a few reported cases of irregularities.

At the same time, due to election irregularities voting results in 10 constituencies were invalidated, and votes in a number of constituencies were recounted. Moreover, heads of 3 local executive committees were fired and a number of heads of local election commissions were arrested for election frauds and violations of the Presidential Executive orders dated 11 May and 25 October. Such measures, first in Azerbaijan's history, will be essential deterrent factor against permitting such delinquencies in the future.

The elections in ten constituencies, results of which had been invalidated were conducted on May 13, 2006. The rerun elections reflected the will of people, and this is confirmed by the coincidence by 100% of official results with that of exit polls.

As mentioned previously, Azerbaijani Government pays particular attention to holding elections in line with democratic and European standards and cooperates closely with international organizations in this regard and declares its readiness to further continue such cooperation. Bering in mind the importance of elections, the Government of Azerbaijan is interested in continuation of mutual and constructive cooperation either in improvement of electoral legislation or in preparation to and holding of elections. In this light the assistance by leading international organizations to the CEC and lower-level electoral commissions in organization of trainings and workshops for the members of those commissions, and in raising awareness of population regarding elections are highly appreciated.