Azerbaijan FINAL REPORT, September 21, 1997-December 31, 2002
In 1995, at the request of USAID, IFES conducted an on-site technical assessment that analyzed the electoral climate in Azerbaijan as the country prepared for the November 12 parliamentary elections and a Constitutional Referendum. As a result of those meetings and based on a review of relevant laws related to the conduct of elections, IFES issued initial conclusions and recommendations regarding the political environment and the status of preparations for elections. Although assistance to the Central Election Commission (CEC) was not possible at that time due to Congressional restrictions on non-humanitarian aid to the Government (Section 907, Freedom Support Act), IFES continued to follow events in Baku after the 1995 elections in anticipation that future technical efforts may be possible.
As IFES observed and the international community reinforced, those elections were flawed, and elections continue to be flawed. During programming from 1998 - 2000 under the Cooperative Agreement, few positive actions were taken by the Azerbaijan government to open up the electoral process to real competition and establish a level playing field for those allowed to compete. During this time electoral practices under President Haydar Aliyev fell short of international democratic standards, even though Azerbaijan made overtures towards addressing these deficiencies in the 2000 parliamentary elections following its admission to the Council of Europe.
Even in this challenging climate, IFES' work in furthering democratic elections and democratic institutions in Azerbaijan achieved measurable, albeit incremental, successes. Planning for IFES' in-country work began in March 1998, after a "carve out" to Section 907 was put in place by Congress. That exemption allowed democracy development assistance to the Azerbaijan government. IFES sent a second technical assessment team to Baku, including a legal advisor and an election administrator, to define activities to be undertaken in support of existing and emerging election systems. During the assessment, IFES met with members of the CEC, representatives from the Office of the President, various ministries, territorial commissions, political parties, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and international donor organizations. Shortly thereafter IFES provided written legal commentary on the draft Law of Azerbaijan on Presidential Electi.ons. This represented the beginning of what became a permanent IFES in-country presence that supported and pushed for meaningful growth in democratic elections and government structures during the programming period.
IFES established a permanent presence in Baku in August 1998 and undertook activities in support of the October 1998 presidential elections. This on-site effort included support to the CEC to improve the conduct of elections and educate voters. IFES provided technical advice to implement the new election law and, together with the Office for Security and Cooperation in Europe/Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR), wrote an official election day manual. IFES worked with the CEC to train over 500 election officials to administer the election process according to the new law. IFES also conducted a national voter education campaign with the CEC resulting in the distribution of over 180,000 posters and fliers, seven televised voter education spots, and a national televised election law forum.
Over the course of the year following the presidential elections, IFES established itself as a trusted advisor to all involved in furthering democracy in Azerbaijan. IFES solidified its position as the nexus of election and democracy support in Azerbaijan between the opposition and the government, evolving local NGOs, and other international NGOs. IFES Project Manager Alan Wall provided straightforward democracy and election expertise on an equal and transparent basis in order to move both the election and democratization process ahead under difficult conditions.
In support of the December 1999 municipal elections and the establishment of the newly elected local government bodies, IFES provided commentary and advice to the Milli Majlis and other interested parties regarding municipal election legislation and other laws affecting municipalities. IFES also continued to provide technical assistance to the CEC. IFES produced and the CEC distributed a polling station manual ensuring that all precinct election commissions had the necessary information to administer the elections. In collaboration with the CEC and supported by many international organizations, IFES also conducted an encompassing voter education campaign that included both print and electronic media components.
In 2000, IFES continued to assist the Milli Majlis and the CEC, worked with opposition parties and with local democracy NGOs in preparation for the November 5 parliamentary elections. Through the continuation of legislation development advice, IFES provided commentary on each draft of the parliamentary election legislation and worked cooperatively with OSCE/ODIHR to support fairer, more democratic election legislation, both for the CEC and for the parliamentary election. When the legislation was passed, albeit with recognizable flaws, IFES worked with the CEC to develop and implement election regulations resulting from the new legislation.
During the summer of 2000, IFES developed and implemented a civic education program to educate Azeri citizens and assess the training needs of newly elected municipal officials. Discussions and interviews with recently elected municipal leaders formed the base of analysis and identification of their training needs. The lack of popular understanding of basic citizen rights in a democracy has contributed to slow democratic reform Azerbaijan. As a result of IFES' civic education work Azerbaijanis received information about their civic responsibilities in municipal governance. This strengthened their understanding of their rights and responsibilities in the democratic process and what they need to do to hold their elected officials accountable.
In late summer 2000, prior to the end of programming under this agreement, initial work was undertaken to support the fall parliamentary election. IFES conducted follow-on work in support of the election under a separate CEPPS agreement, which included election administration support to the CEC, a joint national voter education campaign, and election official training.
Throughout the period of programming under the Cooperative Agreement, IFES consistently pushed to increase the pace of democratic reform in Azerbaijan. This work was reinforced by continued strong, respected relations with the government, opposition and international and local NGOs. IFES concluded its programming under this Cooperative Agreement on September 21, 2000.
As a neutral and non-partisan organization, IFES was able to develop and maintain the trust of those outside the government working to build democracy and democratic elections while maintaining an effective working relationship with the government for the life of the agreement. IFES made solid contributions to the growth of democracy, particularly in legal advising to the government and opposition, introducing transparency though working with all concerned with the growth of democracy, and developing greater public awareness of democratic election standards through vigorous voter education and civic education initiatives. The following final report describes those activities and their impact upon Azerbaijan's continuing interaction with those embracing international democratic standards.