European Observers Give Stamp of Approval to Referendum Results in Azerbaijan

09:59 | 28.09.2016
European officials observing the referendum on constitutional reforms in Azerbaijan have called the vote "free, open and sound," stressing that it has been conducted "in accordance with the best international standards, and that it will definitely express the will of the people of the Republic of Azerbaijan."

Over five million Azerbaijanis were asked to approve 29 constitutional amendments, with a separate vote on each one. The overwhelming majority of the 69.7 per cent turnout supported the extension of the presidential term from five to seven years, as well as plans to create the new position of a First Vice President, who would become the country's number two. Nearly 90 per cent supported either all or the majority of the amendments.

The leader of the European People's Party observation delegation, Portuguese MEP Mário David noted that over four million packages were sent out weeks ago to all postal addresses in Azerbaijan, informing citizens about the referendum and the 29 proposed changes.

"As an experienced election observer, I can testify that our meeting with the Central Election Committee and our observations of the opening of the ballots and procedures were according to international standards," he said.

His EPP colleague, Greek MEP Emmanouil Kefalogiannis noted: "Twenty-nine different votes on constitutional amendments give more room for manoeuvre. Azerbaijanis are changing their system to adjust it to Western standards and I find the referendum democratic."

Meanwhile, observers from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), Europe's body of democracy and human rights, called the voting process "transparent, well organised, efficient and peaceful" and that they would "respect the will of the Azerbaijani people."

At a press conference, the head of the delegation, PACE Vice President Aleksandar Nikoloski said the result expresses the willingness of the people of Azerbaijan as "a step forward towards safe, stable and sustainable development of their country and target establishing a more efficient governance system and implementing more meaningful reforms."

Prior to the referendum, the European Parliament's (EP) Vice President Ryszard Czarnecki had already stated that the EP "will respect the result of this referendum, because for us the will of your nation is the most important."

The results are consistent with an exit poll Monday conducted by leading American polling firm Arthur J. Finkelstein & Associates, which found that 89 per cent of voters supported the constitutional reforms.

"Our pre-referendum survey showed that a staggering 96.7 per cent of Azerbaijanis perceive Nagorno-Karabakh as the most important issue facing the country today," said George Birnbaum, Executive Director of Arthur J. Finkelstein, referring to the Azerbaijani region that has been occupied by Armenia for over two decades. "It remains a hot-button issue for voters and this reflects on the strong support for the government."

In total, 117 observers from 18 international organisations - including PACE - were accredited for the referendum.
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