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Azerbaijan: As elections approach, social networking steps in

On 7 November, Azerbaijan will once again head to the polls to cast their ballots in the upcoming parliamentary elections although actual pre-election campaigning won't officially start until 23 days before voting day itself. The period is five days shorter than previous elections after controversial changes to the electoral code passed in June.

However, there are already some signs of activity on Facebook.

Erkin Gedirli, a lawyer by profession and also a blogger, is among the few using the popular social networking site so far. Shortly after his decision to run for parliament he created a Facebook group [AZ]. So far it has 416 members and its purpose is to keep people updated on the election process, the campaign, and to respond to any questions and concerns.

The group was created in July of this year and has not been without controversy. Shortly after Gedirli's Facebook page was launched, the Secretary of the Central Election Commission, Natiq Mammadov, raised concerns with what he argued was the start of a campaign before the official pre-election period begins.

The accusation raises some questions about the use of new and social media during this election period. For example, as Gedirli is not yet officially registered as a candidate, the use of social media at this stage can perhaps be considered a gray area open to interpretation and debate, and likely by the authorities.

This is especially true given that many political figures have had their own personal Facebook pages which they use to reach out to supporters for some time.

Nevertheless, as freedom of expression and the media remains a significant issue in Azerbaijan, especially since the ban on foreign radio station broadcasts by the BBC, VOA and RFE/RL at the beginning of 2009, there could well be more activity online instead.

Such a development might also put the continued use of new and social media by activists back in the spotlight, especially if it can somehow partly offer an alternative to governmental control of the mass media during elections which to date have not been judged free and fair by international observers.

Around 170,000 people in Azerbaijan use Facebook according the site's own estimates based on actual connections. According to those figures, most are young Azerbaijanis aged 18-30.

For now, another likely candidate, political analyst and figure Ilgar Mammadov, has also launched his own page [AZ]. Mammadov is a colleague of Gedirli in RE-AL (Republican Alternatives) which also has its own blog, as does he. He also tweets at @ilgarmammadov.

4 comments

  • Erkin and Ilgar are not the only social media savvy candidates. “Positive Change” is the motto of another candidate, Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, who has also set up a Facebook page [AZ] and a website [AZ] both of an informative nature. His website however in addition to his Facebook page, offers a glance at his vision of positive change, the platform itself, news of the elections and his candidacy, volunteers and donors.

  • Today, on September 20th, a local assistance and consultancy center “For the Sake of Civil Society” began a Facebook page [AZ] calling for volunteer observers for the day of the elections. The center itself was established in 1997. The Facebook group announces polling stations where volunteers will be recruited. Sponsored by the EU Commission, the initiative looks promising. Though opened only today, the group already has 28 attending volunteers.

  • Hi.

    Nice to see your steps about social meadia.This is is god way i like it.

    Thanks!

  • […] period, a number of candidates for parliamentary elections to be held in the oil-rich country started to use social media for outreach ahead of the November vote. Interestingly, however, and as is increasingly happening in Armenia and […]

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