Lessons for Israel from Azerbaijan’s election

Two of the three Israelis who traveled to Azerbaijan as foreign observers in the country's recent snap election have said that Israel could learn a few things from them.

A woman casts her vote at a polling station during a snap parliamentary election in Baku, Azerbaijan February 9, 2020. (photo credit: REUTERS/AZIZ KARIMOV)
A woman casts her vote at a polling station during a snap parliamentary election in Baku, Azerbaijan February 9, 2020.
(photo credit: REUTERS/AZIZ KARIMOV)
Three Israelis served as foreign observers in Azerbaijan’s snap election last Sunday, in which the Yeni Azerbaijan (New Azerbaijan) party won the majority of seats in the single-chamber parliament.
A week later, two of the observers who traveled to the country said that despite challenges reported by monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe, they took a few lessons from Azerbaijan they would like to see implemented in Israel.
The OSCE and Council of Europe complained that "the restrictive legislation and political environment prevented genuine competition" and that there were “significant procedural violations during counting and the tabulation.” But the Israeli observers found that the positives outweighed the negatives.
According to Roman Gurevich, honorary ambassador to Azerbaijan on behalf of the Jewish Agency, who helped recruit the other observers, there were cameras in at least 1,000 of the countries more than 5,000 voting booths.
“From those booths, you could see everything that was happening, even online,” he said.
In Israel, the Knesset opposed the “cameras bill,” which would have allowed surveillance in polling stations, but the Central Elections Committee significantly increased the amount of cameras on its own.
Accessibility: Gurevich also noted that there were close to 2,000 voting booths prepared specially for citizens with physical disabilities. Moreover, if someone with a disability was assigned a non-accessible booth, he or she could request to vote somewhere else.
In addition, every voting station had at least two copies of the ballot written in Braille.
Israel has a similar set up, according to the website Kol Zchut, which explains that every locality must have at least one accessible polling station and that a voter with mobility disabilities who is assigned to an inaccessible polling station may vote at any "special accessible polling station.”
Ultraviolet pens: Ra'anana’s Alon Keysar, who was also an observer, said he was fascinated by what he called the “marker system,” whereby each voter was drawn on with an ultraviolet blacklight pen. If a person would try to vote twice, he said, polling station supervisors could check the voter’s hand with a flashlight and confirm if he or she had been there before.
Propaganda: Keysar also said that one could not see any propaganda for 24 hours before elections. “The day before the election, all the signs came down and there were no interviews allowed,” Keysar said.
Israel does allow any election polls within a few days of voting.
The Azerbaijan election was called by President Ilham Aliyev to consolidate power and move through some reforms. Initial results indicated that his party gained an additional 16 seats in the parliament.
Voter turnout was reported by the local Central Elections Committee to be at 47.81%.
Azerbaijan is in southwestern Asia. On Election Day, Gurevich and Keysar said the country was blanketed in snow and temperatures were around 0 degrees Celsius.
Israel and Azerbaijan have shared strategic diplomatic relations since soon after Azerbaijan’s independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991.