Due to shortcomings in situation of democracy and political freedoms prior to and during the Referendum, including the voting day, the Referendum failed to meet requirements of election legislation and international commitments of the country with regards to democratic elections.
As a result of amendments to the NGO legislation, independent civil society is not able to operate freely in the country. Criminal investigation and large tax fines lingering over some foreign and domestic NGOs, along with restrictions of accessing the foreign funding prevented civil society organizations from meaningfully participating in the referendum and engaging in voter education and election monitoring.
Political repressions intensified during the Referendum resulting in increased number of political prisoners.
The Referendum day was marred with violations including ballot-box stuffing, multiple voting, group voting (carousel) and voting of persons without registration, similar irregularities from the previous elections. EMDS observed that voter turnout was artificially raised in majority of polling stations through multiple voting and ballot-box stuffing. The official turnout do not correspond to real figures.
Following the opinion of the Constitutional Court of Azerbaijan on the Constitutional Act on amendments to the main law of the country, EMDS published its opinion about the proposed changes and preparations to the Referendum, and called for consulting with the European Commission for Democracy through Law of the Council of Europe (the Venice Commission).
EMDS believes that comprehensive assessment of 26 September 2016 Referendum requires consideration of all stages of the referendum including evaluation of awareness raising among public on proposed changes, political situation and conditions prior to the referendum, the election legislation, conduct of the referendum day and vote tabulation against the international commitments of the country.
EMDS notes with regret that there was no open public debate or adequate awareness raising campaign among public on proposed changes to the Constitution which are essential for expression of people’s true will. Increased restrictions on freedoms of expression, assembly and association in the last few years, along with very short official campaigning period (22 days) and refusal to register opposition campaign groups contributed to the lack of vibrant debate during the referendum.
EMDS believes that the government should demonstrate political will to restore mutual confidence in relations between the state and public, should create competitive environment for all political opponents and should release all political prisoners.
Moreover, as the Referendum fails to deliver adequate Constitutional reforms on separation of power and protection of human rights, the government should work together with the Venice Commission and civil society to address the issues in this field.