Opinions Still Divided Over Azerbaijani
By Khadija Ismayilova: 11/05/05
With less than a day before Azerbaijans parliamentary
elections, unanswered questions still exist regarding the
exit polls that were intended to serve as a check on official
vote results. Among the more problematic issues, according
to a Central Election Commission source: which of three
main polls to use for comparison with official results.
One poll will be run by a group organized by the Washington,
DC-based PA Consulting Group in 65 constituencies and funded
by the United States Agency for International Development.
New York-based Warren Mitofsky International and the Estonian
firm Saar Poll will run polls in all 125 constituencies.
The source, who asked not to be named, said that the commission
is quite confused by the number of polling companies conducting
exit polls for the election, as well as by differences between
their margins of error. Presidential administration officials
have stated that an investigation of a polling station will
be launched if the discrepancy between a polling stations
official result and that of an exit poll exceeds the standard
margin of error of the exit pollsters work.
The source said that the CEC for now has no set plan for
which exit poll to use for comparison with official results.
We hope that there will be no discrepancies between
the results of the exit poll companies, the source
said, adding that if such a discrepancy did occur we
will find a solution.
Confusion also surrounds the margin of error which would
be used as the benchmark for comparison with official results.
Both Mitofsky and Saar Poll claim that their results have
less than a 3 percent margin of error. PA Consulting Groups
website states that its polls have a 3.5 percent margin
of error. However, during a visit to Baku earlier in October,
Assistant US Secretary of State for Eurasia Daniel Fried
told a press conference that the USAID- funded exit poll
could have a margin of error of no more than 2 percent.
Speaking to journalists on October 27, Ali Hasanov, head
of the presidential administrations public and political
affairs department, only said that three companies will
conduct exit polls in Azerbaijan, and that all three are
In his May 11 decree on providing for free and fair parliamentary
elections, President Ilham Aliyev ordered local authorities
to provide all opportunities for conducting exit polls and
for [the] fair and transparent disclosure of the results
of the parallel voting."
Unlike the government, the opposition has been outspoken
in its reaction to the three exit pollsters. The opposition
believes that both Mitofsky and Saar Poll have the government
as their clients, albeit using front organizations. Reluctance
by both Mitofsky and Saar Poll to discuss their clients
has fueled these doubts. Mitofsky originally claimed that
its exit poll is sponsored by a Switzerland-based company
called Renaissance. Saar Poll has named its client as Santo
Communications, a British financial institution, the company
background see the EurasiaNet Insight archive].
On November 1, Turan News Agency reported that it had received
a letter that allegedly identified the client of Mitofsky
International as Renaissance Associates, a lobbyist firm
which represents the Azerbaijani government in Washington.
In response to the claim, Mitofsky International stated
on November 2 that Renaissance Associates is a respected
organization with which Mitofsky has had experience working.
Opposition accusations of bias have also dogged PA Consulting
Groups two local partners, Baku-based SORGU (Survey)
and GORBI, an opinion research firm based in Tbilisi, Georgia,
which will act as a technical advisor. They have the
reputation of being biased organizations, said PFPA
Deputy Chairman Fuad Mustafayev. We do trust PA Consulting,
but not their contractors. The opposition traces its
reservations to a May 2005 opinion poll commissioned by
GORBI and implemented by SORGU, which gave President Ilham
Aliyev a 77-percent approval rating, and was incorrectly
attributed to polling giant Gallup International.
Choice of constituencies is another trouble spot for poll
critics. PA Consulting Group chose the 65 constituencies
in which it will conduct exit polls by random selection.
None of the constituencies include races between opposition
leaders and nominees of the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party.
The head of one non-governmental organization who shares
the skepticism about SORGU and GORBI, has commented that
if the random selection procedure had taken place in the
presence of journalists, belief in the polls objectivity
would have been stronger. Maybe it would be worthwhile
to choose two organizations - one trusted by the opposition,
another by the government, said Leyla Yunus, director
of the Peace and Democracy Institute.
Speaking to EurasiaNet earlier in October, PA Consulting
Group representative in Baku David Hoffman said that the
random selection of constituency is a widely used polling
practice and that there is no reason to abandon it.
Domestic and international reactions to the polls and their
role in the election process promise to be mixed. Elin Suleymanov,
senior counselor in the presidential administrations
foreign relations department, commented that the exit poll
can be viewed as an auxillary method for vote counting,
but in no way official. Sabine Freizer, director of the
International Crisis Groups Caucasus Project, named
international observers as a preferable means for determining
how far and free the elections since they will see the actual
process of voting.
For now, with many Azerbaijani voters, curiosity about the
polls appears to be winning out over any doubts about their
effectiveness. Baku resident Sona Mamedova, 18, will be
voting in her first elections on November 6 and says she
has thoroughly researched all three polling companies. Mamedova
conceded that she has doubts about how effective the polls
will prove as a check against official results, but added:
[I]t is good that we have an exit poll. . . I like
the fact that the opinion of people like me is interesting
Editors Note: Khadija Ismayilova is freelance
journalist based in Baku.
Want more stories?
Go to the News & Views Archive