What do you most want to know from candidates taking part in Azerbaijan’s 2005 parliamentary elections? And from the officials and election observers charged with counting and monitoring the vote? Send in your questions from October 31 through November 6, and we’ll deliver the answers.

November 1
Elin Suleymanov, Office of the President, Foreign Relations Department, Senior Counsellor

Curious about what the government thinks the elections will mean for relations with the US? Or for regional energy cooperation? Read on.

First, I would like to thank all of the participants for their questions and their interest in Azerbaijan.

1. I am [a] Georgian citizen who used to live in Azerbaijan. I read [the October 31 EurasiaNet] story about Georgia's relations with Azerbaijan. Do you think that Georgia in 2008 [when parliamentary elections will be held] will [be able to] learn anything from Azerbaijan's 2005 parliamentary elections? If so, what?

Azerbaijan and Georgia enjoy a very close relationship. I would even call it exemplary for the post-Soviet space. Partly, this relationship is bases on strategic matters, such as, for instance, the energy cooperation. However, no less important is the general understanding that only working together constructively we can build a prosperous, secure South Caucasus. We also constantly learn from each other. Hopefully, this coming election, too, can serve as another learning experience for both our nations as they work towards further strengthening their democratic institutions.

2. [President George W.] Bush's letter to [President Ilham] Aliyev on October 18 talked about how relations between the US and Azerbaijan could become more "strategic" after the elections. How would you like to see relations with our White House develop?

Azerbaijan values its long-standing strategic partnership with the United States. We share a similar outlook on many issues and challenges; Azerbaijan is an active participant in the international efforts to curb terrorism and Azerbaijani servicemen serve shoulder to shoulder with their American counterparts in Afghanistan, Kosovo and Iraq. Baku certainly would like to see this partnership deepen and expand in all spheres. One area where an intensification of America's positive engagement is most needed and may prove vital for the successful future of our entire strategically important region is ending Armenia's occupation of the Azerbaijani lands and settling regional conflicts.

3. Do you expect any changes in the scope and directions of regional cooperation after the elections in Azerbaijan? Is there any chance to revive the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline?

Azerbaijan's policy has been to champion cooperation with partners in the region and beyond. This long-term policy, which serves the interests of Azerbaijan and of the region as a whole, will certainly continue after the elections. Realization of the BTC [Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan] oil pipeline, the backbone of the East-West energy corridor, as well as the developing Baku-Tbilisi-Erzerum gas pipeline project and the strengthening Trans-Caspian link with Kazakhstan open new opportunities for cooperation. We welcome all ideas that contribute to the region's development. A renewed discussion on the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline would require a constructive approach from all of the parties involved.

4. I don't get it. Rasul Guliyev can be registered as a candidate, but still can't come back to Azerbaijan without fear of arrest. To American eyes, this is confusing. Why did the election people [the Central Election Commission] register him as a candidate to begin with?

Registering to be a voter and a candidate to be elected is a constitutional right of an Azerbaijani citizen. While Rasul Guliyev is entitled to this right, he is also wanted by the authorities on criminal charges for massive embezzlement. The CEC [Central Election Commission] acted in accordance with the Constitution because Mr. Guliyev's registration as a candidate cannot be denied unless there is a court verdict establishing his guilt. At the same time, a candidate's registration does not exempt one from criminal investigation. Acting in accordance with Azerbaijan's electoral code, the prosecutor-general lifted Guliyev's immunity and re-affirmed his earlier arrest warrant.

5. What would Azerbaijan say to those international human rights advocates who have expressed concern at the recent arrests of [former Economic Development Minister] Farhad Aliyev, [former Health Minister] Ali Insanov and other top government officials?

Although the investigation is still ongoing, there is already sufficient evidence that some of the former officials have been involved in criminal activities, including sponsoring violent unrest, large-scale corruption and abuse of power. For some time, the human right advocates called for personnel reforms and for prosecuting abuses by officials, including by those under investigation. Surprisingly, contrary to wide popular support in Azerbaijan for the President recent moves, some are trying to portray the former officials as 'liberals' and 'victims.' Azerbaijan would welcome a more consistent approach and greater support for the efforts to fight corruption and expand reform.

6. I applaud President Aliyev's October 25 decree [on inking voters' fingers and allowing non-governmental organizations with more than 30 percent foreign financing to monitor the elections]. But the international community has long encouraged Azerbaijan to take this decision. What finally prompted President Aliyev to take it?

President Aliyev is committed to holding free and fair elections and to deepening the democratic process, a fact reflected in President Bush's recent letter. The presidential decree of May 11, 2005 was a widely -recognized major step aimed at improving the electoral process, preventing interference by local executives and establishing the practice of exit polls. After a review, the president, in his October 25 decree, proposed a number of additional initiatives in order to farther the progress achieved during the election campaign, to ensure the full implementation of the May 11 decree and to meet the suggestions of international observers.

7. Some candidates have talked about how the best way for a peaceful solution to the Nagorno Karabakh conflict with Armenia is for Azerbaijan to make democratic reforms, and that the elections play a role in improving relations with Armenia. Do you agree?

The best way for Armenia to improve relations with its neighbors is to cease its occupation of the internationally recognized territories of Azerbaijan in accordance with international law so a million displaced victims of Armenia's policy of ethnic cleansing can return to their native homes. If anything, ending Armenia's aggression against Azerbaijan would only contribute to prosperity and strengthening the civil society in the region. The government of Azerbaijan has been committed to the peace process under the OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] Minsk Group auspices and remains so in spite of the prolonged and, so far, fruitless nature of the talks.

8. What is your response to the Human Rights Watch report released today [October 31, 2005] that claimed that conditions have not been met for free and fair parliamentary elections on November 6? It cites police violence against protestors, mass arrests and pro-government media bias as among the reasons why.

We welcome all comments and constructive criticism. The latest Human Rights Report is, however, less than fair. It does not consider the context and presents a one-sided, exaggerated picture. This election campaign is unprecedented in its openness and vibrancy for Azerbaijan, something the authors fail to highlight. Building a democratic society is a process; unfortunately, the report focuses on negative snap-shots instead. Azerbaijan's political process is not ideal, yet the progress made is undeniable. We hope the authors [will] take a more objective stand and refrain from pre-judging the election before it takes place on the basis of an incomplete picture.

AZERBAIJAN: ELECTIONS 2005 is a production of EurasiaNet.org with funding provided by the Open Society Institute.
Copyright © 2005 EurasiaNet.org.