At its final session before the two-month summer recess, the Azerbaijani parliament approved on 28 June in the second and third (final) readings 43 separate election law amendments proposed by President Ilham Aliyev, Azerbaijani media reported.
Those amendments do not include the most important changes called for by the Council of Europe's Venice Commission. The Azerbaijani opposition, which had similarly argued that changes are essential to prevent election fraud, immediately attributed the parliament's apparent imperviousness to Western pressure to the current leadership's determination to "falsify the elections and create a puppet parliament," as Musavat party Chairman Isa Qambar told Turan on 29 June.
The changes deemed most necessary by both the Council of Europe and the opposition focus on the composition of the election commissions responsible for counting and tallying votes. In line with amendments to the law passed two years ago in the run-up to the October 2003 presidential election, the opposition nominates six of the 15 members of the Central Election Commission, four of the nine members of regional election commissions, and two of the six members on local election commissions.
The election law amendments approved on 28 June leave the composition of election commissions unchanged. They also leave in force the provision that domestic NGOs that receive more than 30 percent of their funding from abroad may not monitor elections. The amendments do, however, include some key technical measures intended to ensure that elections are more democratic, such as reducing the deposit election candidates must pay to register, posting updated voter lists on the Internet, and cutting from five days to two days after the ballot the deadline for making public preliminary returns.
As indicated above, Azerbaijani opposition politicians reacted to passage of the amendments with anger and outrage. There has been no international reaction as of late on 29 June, but Council of Europe officials who visited Baku in recent months have made the point that even the most democratically-formulated law cannot prevent fraud if the authorities are dead set on rigging the ballot.
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