Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Azerbaijan considering electronic voting system for next election

It is not terribly common to find discussions of advancing democracy coming from countries that are perhaps more associated with communism or socialism. However, it is perhaps from these previously political states that the emergence of truly fair, free and open democracy can have among the greatest impact, as just might be the case for Azerbaijan.

The former member of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR or “Soviet Union”) recently held its major national election on November 1. The ruling Yeni Azerbaijan (“New Azerbaijan”) party, headed by President Ilham Aliyev, was re-elected with a sizable majority, taking 71 of the 125 seats in the country's parliament. As a result, Aliyev will be leading the country for another five years.

Unfortunately, this election was not without its fair share of controversy. There have been allegations of ballot stuffing at a number of the polls, for instance, as well as the noted boycott by several of the nation's leading opposition parties. These include the National Council of Democratic Forces (NCDF), the Musavat party, and the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan. According to the NCDF, the polls in Azerbaijan are “fully falsified” and do not accurately reflect the will of the people of Azerbaijan.

A democracy cannot be fully respected and hold the legitimate seat of power if the nation's people do not trust in the integrity of the electoral process, especially when leading opposition parties boycott the polls. This leads to an inherent skewing of the results, even though voter turnout was a mere 55.7 percent.

To move the democracy forward and to earn the respect of the Azerbaijan people, the electoral process in the nation is in desperate need of reform. If the integrity of the election is not trusted, then neither can the results and this can lead to further political upheaval. Thankfully, the November 1 election was conducted in a peaceful manner with no major stories of violence.

Looking ahead to the next election in 2020, the greater possibility of a free, fair, open and transparent election is possible, one where the major opposition parties may not feel compelled to boycott. During a briefing on October 9, Azerbaijan Central Election Commission (CEC) Information Center Director Rufat Gulmammadov indicated that electronic voting technology could be suitably launched in the nation.

“If this issue is reflected in the legislation, I believe that it can be resolved without any problems from the technical point of view,” stated Gulmammadov. “If the issue of electronic voting will be reflected in legislation of the country, this corporate network can act as a platform for the launch of e-voting.”

He is referring to the corporate network of the CEC itself, which can operate as the framework for an e-voting system in Azerbaijan's national elections. The network has been in operation for more than three years and has already been used successfully in previous elections. The next major step would be for the parliament of Azerbaijan to pass legislation that would facilitate the widespread adoption and deployment of e-voting technology.

With greater reliability and transparency, an electronically-powered election in Azerbaijan may be ready for 2020. Perhaps then, the results will not be as heavily disputed and a point of rampant controversy as this most current election.