“In the village of Arikhli, 3 of our party members were handing out materials and were harassed by representatives of local authorities. Later, they started talking, and were beaten by the same people. The police were alerted, and have opened an investigation into the matter.”
Samira Ismayilova, who is running as the candidate of the United National Movement (UNM) party for the region of Bolnisi, says that more than 100 pamphlets were destroyed in an altercation between the party’s members and representatives of local authorities.
“Since we’ve started distributing information, since the beginning of our political campaign, the ruling party and its members – in particular, local members of the party – have applied pressure and harassed [us]. In the smaller villages, they go to people’s houses, and put pressure on them by telling them, ‘if you vote for the United National Movement party (No. 5), we’re going to make some problems for your kids. . !’ Whatever we put up in the evening, they’ve painted over with black in the morning.”
Arif Yusibov, a resident of Arikhli village and member of UNM party, was one of the individuals beaten in the above – mentioned event.
“The residents of the village got together, and we were speaking. All of a sudden, some local officials came and started ripping our pamphlets and photos out of our hands, and tearing them up. They punched and kicked us, too.”
Bolnisi is the third most populous Azerbaijani village after Marneuli and Gardabani. And on the roads that lead out of these villages, one can often see election materials and posters. However, the majority of them are pictures and posters of the candidates of Georgian Dream party (No. 41).
In Bolnisi region, many residents that we questioned told us that they had been instructed to vote for Georgian Dream as well.
Resident Durdane Aliyeva says “Our neighbor works in the Georgian Dream party. He told us, ‘on election day, I’ll come myself and put you on a marshrutka [bus]. Think about your kids. . .’ “
Longinoz Hasanov, Deputy Chief Executive of Bolnisi region, denies that there has been any such pressure against members of the United National Movement party, and says that there are equal opportunities and freedoms for those wishing to distribute and spread information on party candidates.
“Every candidate can have meetings at any place and at any time. They can also distribute party pamphlets and other information. Bolnisi was one of the most politically active regions in the last elections: no one is subject to any pressure here.”
Kote Kandilaki, an independent observer of the elections says that there has been a minimum number of reports on election protocol violations, but that the governing party has been very active this year in the distribution of information and party pamphlets.
“In former years Azerbaijanis were not so active in the political process. But this year, candidates of the United National Movement have been very active. There aren’t many serious allegations against unfair pressure or harrassment against the opposing party. And just the fact that they are strong does not mean that they have given permission for pressure to be applied to opposing parties in devious and indirect ways.”
Nino Khiritashvili, the head of a monitoring mission in Georgia ran by the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy, disagrees, and says that the ruling party has indeed demonstrated a tendency to try and stamp out opposing voices.
“I suspect that we will see a similar tendency and similar practices on voting day itself. But nontheless, I should note that the competition this year will be fierce.”
In Bolnisi region, 8 candidates from 5 different parties have put their names forward for the parliamentary elections. There are 40,600 registered voters in the area. Azerbaijanis make up for more than 75% of the region’s population.