From the conversation of President of the Azerbaijan Republic Heydar Aliyev with the delegation of Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe - Presidential palace, December 10, 1999

Heydar Aliyev: Welcome to Azerbaijan, I greet you. You will be observers at the first municipal elections held in Azerbaijan. It is very important for us. Municipal elections are held in Azerbaijan for the first time. I think that as a result of the work, carried out for last 4-5 months, our citizens could obtain sufficient understanding about municipal elections. The statement of the Central election committee was announced yesterday. It became clear that citizens show high activity for the participation at these elections. It is a very good sign. We wish that the electorate would also show such activity, come to vote and thus, the elections will get through successfully. I say once again, we hold elections to municipalities for the first time. But we have experience of holding democratic elections. I think we will be able to hold these elections as well and you will help us in it.

I suppose you have come here not only as observers, but at the same time, with the purpose to help us. Please, I listen to you.

Alan Lloyd (member of Swansea city and county municipality, Great Britain, the head of the delegation): Mr. President, thank You very much for Your warm and sincere greetings.

It is true, we have come here to the elections to be held on December 12. However, along with this, I am in Your country as a member of the delegation of the Congress of local and regional authorities of Europe and control this area. I have a very good assistant in this work. It is professor of Ankara University of Turkey, Mr. Rushen Kelesh.

Mr. President, we realize well that your country is on the threshold of acceptance as a member of the Council of Europe. Certainly, absolute fulfillment of requirements of the European Charter on local self-government is one of the basic provisions for the affiliation to this Council.

The elections to be held on Sunday are only a part of a longstanding process. Based on the big inspiration that we have seen here, we can resolutely say that you will achieve great success in this field. As is known, the Congress of local and regional authorities of Europe is on the whole one of the branches of the Council of Europe. We control local democratic elections and hope that the representatives of local administration, elected as a result of democratic elections will soon arrive in Strasbourg and become the participants of all our activity. We fully realize that democracy is not established within one night.

Elections are just one step towards democracy. We hope that after elections or in the future, we will control the work of local administration as well. It is known that affiliation of your country to the Council of Europe approaches. I am absolutely sure that Azerbaijan will soon become a member of the Council of Europe and we will continue our control after your country becomes a member of the Council of Europe since we require appropriate work from all the local administrations having signed the European Charter on local self-government.

Mr. President, we know that laws are amended in Azerbaijan and regulations are given new breath.

The role of local administrations, having particular significance, should be brought up to a proper level. All the people, whom we talked to now - both official and private persons give hope to us. We are certain that these elections will pass on a good level.

Mister President, I repeat once again, your country will soon enter the family of the Council of Europe. We are sure that local democratic self-government bodies will also arrange their work on a proper level, sign the European Charter and we will live happily in a common family.

Heydar Aliyev: I am highly satisfied that you have got closely acquainted with the situation in out country in a very short term and expressed certain positive thoughts. I appreciate you for your hopes, wishes and words stated here concerning affiliation of Azerbaijan to the Council of Europe.

We know well that joining the Council of Europe means at the same time taking big responsibility. For instance, there were no municipalities in Azerbaijan up to date and we did not have responsibility in this field. Now, the municipal elections will be held, municipalities will be established and undoubtedly, the level of work of municipalities will be to a certain extent valued at the Council of Europe and other international organizations and it will influence on the attitude towards Azerbaijan. But we fearlessly take these difficulties. We have been knocking the door of the Council of Europe for three years and want this door to open. We understand that it will raise our responsibility even more. In other words, we do it wittingly, as we want to be an equal right member of the Council of Europe, we want to approximate our work to the European standards and we are building a legal, democratic and temporal state. No matter how difficult this way is, it is also important and necessary for us.

Affiliation to the council of Europe will help us, since on the one hand we will be more responsible ourselves, and on the other hand, if there is a fault in our country as a member of the Council of Europe, the Council will pay attention to it and our state bodies and authority will try not to commit these mistakes. I think this work follows a right direction.

I am satisfied that you have experience in this field. I do not have big illusions at all, as these elections are held for the first time. 30 minutes ago, I had my appeal to the citizens of Azerbaijan connected with the municipal elections recorded on republican television and radio and it will be transmitted in the evening.

Appealing to the people, to all the citizens, I first of all made a request to be active at the elections and secondly, to hold the elections absolutely free and public, so that people could vote for their candidates and local bodies of executive power would not interfere in the work of election committees and, moreover, prevent other interference cases.

I stated a number of my desires. If you have time, you can watch it on television. Our common goal is to take a big step towards democracy.

As I have said, I do not cherish illusions, I think we can hold municipal elections at the level of European standards. But it will be rather difficult. I was informed that there are 70-80 candidates in each regional municipality of Baku, but only 19 people should be elected. I thought how to choose and vote for 19 candidates out of 70 in a polling-booth. It is not the previous elections. There were 3-4-5 candidates at that time. But now, it is necessary to vote for 19 candidates out of 70. It is a problem itself. I thought to possibly distribute these bulletins in advance, people will think and then enter a polling-booth. But it is impossible. And in addition, not everyone knows those people. For example, I know many of them. But perhaps, I know only 5-6 candidates out of 70 in the district where I live and I do not know the rest. Therefore, it is a very difficult process. You have been engaged in this matter for years, tens of years. Therefore, it is a usual mission for you, but it is a new one for us. But it does not mean that we should not do it. We should reach your level. I think it is possible with your help.

Our goal is to have these elections held democratically, freely and publicly. For us, it is of no concern who will be elected. But of course, the people living in the territory of each municipality should know who they elect and believe that these people will work fruitfully in local self-government bodies.

I think the work carried out by us until now will provide holding of municipal elections. There were many materials and programs available in newspapers and on television to acquaint people with these elections. I learn much from television myself, as they interpret these issues very well. That is, this work is organized by the Central Election Committee. But when these issues are clarified simply, a person learns many things well.

Thus, we should hold these elections together with you in two days. It is natural that the door of the Council of Europe should open for us and representatives of local municipalities will come there.

Alan Lloyd: Mister President, both realization of democracy and a way of its implementation are very important. We are asked many questions as to what kind of candidates there should be and what standards they should meet. I have seen from my experience that common people and electorate know better than us, politicians, what the candidates should there be.

Mister President, democracy is a tool, which provides people with the opportunity to make their own decisions, choosing those whom they want. We, politicians can agree with those people or dispute them. But everything is in the hands of voters themselves. I hope that all the citizens of the country guided by You, will make use of this opportunity, go to polling stations and elect their representatives.

Mister President, the elections to take place on Sunday are very important elections. These are the elections to the local bodies of self-government and it is the closest form of power to people.

Mister President, based on the experience of my country, including the experience of other member-states of the Council of Europe, it is known that many people, elected at other elections spend much time basically in the parliament, in capital. And the representatives of local power bodies spend 52 weeks or 365 days of their time a year in their territories together with the people elected them, i.e. they do not have time for other work. Sunday is the first stage of these elections. Basic work will start after it, i.e. the representatives elected to the bodies of local power will be provided with rights for responsibility and power. And basic work will start after it.

Mister President, the bodies of local power should be rendered sufficient rights and responsibility to implement corresponding work in their territories. These are not the kind of work chosen by the desire of local authorities, but those necessary for the people elected them. I think after empowering these rights, corresponding laws should be regulated in the country, so that local power bodies could realize this power in the context of law.

Mister President, I want to attract your attention to one more issue. It is very important to educate and educate correctly the newly elected people. They should adopt themselves correctly to corresponding laws and should obey them. It is known that all the elected people will be newcomers in this work. I want to appeal to You and Your government and ask You to get them educated. And we, in our turn, are ready to render any necessary assistance in their education.

We know that certain laws are to be adopted by the Azerbaijan Parliament. Now, the drafts of these laws are being considered at the parliament. We got acquainted with these drafts and liked them very much. But it is very important that local authorities work with these laws. I reiterate, to educate people to be elected and justify hopes of electorate is very important.

It is very important to hold these elections in democratic conditions. It is well-known that people to be elected should justify hopes of electorate within 3-4 years, i.e. until the next elections. Perhaps, the next time, they will be elected again or they will be candidates. Therefore, I ask to pay attention to their education.

Mister President, I repeat, we do not have illusions that everything will be resolved in one night. We understand that there will be a certain transition period and establishment of work among executive power bodies and local authorities will need time. However, we have observed in Azerbaijan that some executive power bodies approach this work with high inspiration and intend to participate actively at these elections. We will help You with this work on Sunday. But our basic help will take place after Sunday.

I hope that these elections will pass in open and frank conditions and we will write a positive report upon return. Our report will be submitted to the Parliament Assembly of the Council of Europe and the Committee of Ministers. After reading this report, everyone will agree and say to Azerbaijan: welcome to the Council of Europe. May this day come soon.

Heydar Aliyev: Thank You, I appreciate You for very valuable thoughts. Your recommendations regarding both holding elections and practical activity of municipalities are very essential. As You have mentioned, basic work will actually start after the municipal elections. There will be big demand for Your assistance in this field. I am satisfied that You are stating now to render any assistance to us. In this case, we will be able not only to elect municipalities successfully, but also to arrange their work better in the future.

I fully agree with Your ideas on their getting education. Evidently, a special program should be worked out for it. We should educate them taking in account Your recommendations and experience and educate them properly. In a word, our cooperation will last long.

I appreciate You once again for the ideas expressed today. I hope our cooperation will be successful in future as well. Thank You.

"Azerbaijan" newspaper, 11 December, 1999.