Social media and Azerbaijani elections

With few independent observers to monitor Azerbaijani’s legislative vote, will social media provide the much-needed scrutiny? With monitoring parties likely out for observation, what does this mean for the transparency of the election? Can social media fill the void?

2013 was a banner year for transparency in Azerbaijan. Between crackdowns on opposition parties to accidentally releasing the presidential election results before the polls closed, few organizations or individuals would say the 2013 elections were transparent. Two years later, Azerbaijanis are preparing to cast their ballots in the parliamentary vote.

In just a few days, voters (mostly living, but a few dead have managed to vote repeatedly from the grave) will take to the polls to elect 125 deputies to serve five-year terms.

Can social media fill the void?

While the parliamentary elections are not as thrilling as presidential, controversy has already turned up. Namely that the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly  (OSCE-PA) will

not be sending an election observation

delegation, since OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) will not be observing.  The decision by ODIHR not to observe came after the Azerbaijani government imposed restrictions on the number of observers allowed to monitor.

With both monitoring parties likely out for observation, what does this mean for the transparency of the election? And more importantly, can social media fill the void of independent observers?

The impact of social media on citizen engagement in the voting process was studied in the Pew Research Centers’ publication

Politics Fact Sheet


By closely observing the way in which social networking sites (


) are used, it was found that among total users, 66% had participated or done one of eight civic or political activities. These activities range from encouraging others to vote, to voicing personal opinions on political and social issues.  As a result, the impact of SNS on citizen politics views is also important. Of the 66% who participated in at least one civil or political activity, 25% become more involved in politics issues, while 16% changed or shifted their view on particular issues. While this study is focused on the US, the results highlight the significance of social media use by citizens and the real impact it can have on citizen behavior, engagement and viewpoint.

“Exercise in frustration”

A non-transparent election is still a non-transparent election, presence of observers or not.  If the 2013 presidential election is any indication of how such things usually play out (observation delegations met with good deal of diversionary tactics), then the parliamentary elections could simply be an exercise in frustration for observers.

The predicted lack of observers puts the central Azerbaijani PR machine in a great position of power. If they say the election was transparent, and there was no confirmation from an independent body, then, what criticism can be leveled at the electoral process? In the long run, this likely gives the government more leverage in policy, bilateral relations and negotiating with EU and other Western countries.

However, an overarching issue at this election and subsequent elections will be the presence of social media and how that medium influences (or does not) the civic participation and perspective on the electoral process. With state leaders such as Ilham Aliyev (



, Barack Obama,(


) and David Cameron (


) engaging on Twitter, and instantaneous news being shared across Facebook, elections and civic processes are open for scrutiny.

What would they say?

With or without observers, the election in Azerbaijan will be subject to a certain level of scrutiny and social media activity. This activity could be either positive marked by overt blocking of certain accounts, or positive, with an outpouring of analytical Tweets covering the various events of the election day.

If in doubt of the strength of Twitter to call out or praise events and officials in Azerbaijan, here are a few examples of choice Tweets from 2013 regarding the presidential election:

In anticipation of social media ensuring the 2015 election is as captivating as a parliamentary election can be, I reached out to a few colleagues, who have lived or worked in Azerbaijan or who are currently engaged in political affairs analysis, and asked them to weigh in on what they think will happen via Twitter on the big day. More specifically, I asked them to give me a few Tweets they think could


emerge from Azerbaijan, the EU and other areas of the world.  A few were snarky, and a few were eerily similar to what is expected:

1) If an election takes place in #Azerbaijan and no one watches it, is there democracy?

2) The election shows Azerbaijan to be a free, fair, prosperous, and powerful state

3) How many @oscepa reps does it take to legitimize an election? Just so there is one per can of caviar

4) The OSCE’s refusal to monitor the democratic choice of the people of Azerbaijan is another example of European discrimination against Muslim people.

To make the parliamentary election interesting, here is a list of several Twitter feeds to watch:


– Policy, energy security; will likely have strong opinions on how election day goes down.

@GoAzerbaijan00 – Up to the minute news; sure to have play by play of all things election.


– Currently Anne Brasseur; active in calling for transparent elections in many countries, not just Azerbaijan.


– South Caucuses, linked to The Caucasus Voices Daily; good place to start when searching for election news.


– Ilham Aliyev


– National news agency of Azerbaijan, usually contrasts with what




are Tweeting.

While it remains unclear if social media use by citizens could influence the transparency or accountability of political processes, in Azerbaijan, with few official election observers present, social media, in particular Twitter, could be one of the few ways in which the election is monitored.

Follow Colleen Mac at @M_Cmacdonald

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