Many experts and candidates believe that the authorities are thus trying to interfere with the opposition’s election campaign.
Opposition and independent candidates preparing for snap parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan are unhappy with the high cost of election campaigning on television.
Of all the TV channels (and all of them, one way or another, are controlled by the government), only public television has agreed to provide airtime for paid campaigning, setting the price between 22 to 65 manat [approximately $13-38] per second of airtime, the Caucasian Knot reports.
That is, one minute of campaigning will cost at least $780. Most opposition candidates and self-nominated candidates say that for them such rates are prohibitive, and, therefore, they are forced to abandon campaigning on TV.
For example, the head of the opposition Musavat party, Arif Hajili, said that under such conditions, their party would distribute posters and booklets, communicate lively with voters and use social media.
Experts believe that this high cost is associated with the authorities’ reluctance to allow their rivals onto the air.
Snap parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan were scheduled for February 9, 2020 after the parliament announced its dissolution at the end of December 2019.
The initiator of this was the ruling New Azerbaijan Party, arguing its decision by the need to recruit a new parliament which would be more in line with the reforms carried out by President Ilham Aliyev.
In the early elections, along with the New Azerbaijan Party (YAP), several opposition parties and independent candidates will also participate. The opposition National Council of Democratic Forces chose to boycott these elections, stating the elections would likely be rigged.
Campaign season begins on January 17 and ends on the morning of February 8.
Free campaigning – only for the elect
As for free airtime on public television and for space in state newspapers, according to the law, only parties and blocs that have registered candidates in more than 60 of 125 constituencies are eligible.
“Only the ruling New Azerbaijan Party will gain access on a free basis to public television and radio, since only its candidates are registered in almost all the districts,” Samir Kazimli, coordinator of the Alliance for the Protection of Political Freedoms, explains..
“An abnormal situation”
“The fact that no other TV channel has expressed its willingness to accept election advertisements on a paid basis, indicates the intention of the authorities to conduct a campaign in the most quiet environment and not cause excitement in the elections. In recent years, the authorities have been holding elections per this scheme”, Samir Kazimli says.
In his opinion, this can lead to low turnout, which, in turn, will facilitate the rigging of results.
Media rights expert Alesker Mammadli also considers it abnormal that political advertising is 15 times more expensive than commercial, as well as the fact that no other channel offered even a paid opportunity for campaigning, although for them it would be a good way to earn money.
Mammadli considers this evidence that they are all tightly controlled by the authorities.