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British politician banned from representing EU after praising undemocratic election

Luke James
Brussels correspondent
Conservative MEP David Campbell Bannerman (Getty)

A Conservative politician has been banned from acting as an EU election observer after praising a vote declared undemocratic by official monitors.

David Campbell Bannerman is one of three MEPs who have been sanctioned after flouting warnings to stay away from the presidential poll that took place in Azerbaijan last week.

The European Parliament decided not to send an official delegation to observe the early election because of what they described as the “worsening democratic environment in the country.”

They subsequently warned MEPs not to take part in “fake” delegations which could be “intentionally” misrepresented as official delegations by local media.

However, Mr Campbell Bannerman and two Polish MEPs from the European Conservative and Reformists (ECR) group travelled to Azerbaijan as privately invited international observers.

Mr Campbell Bannerman told the EU Reporter website that his group “didn’t see anything that concerned us” and said he was “impressed with the security measures” employed.

He also tweeted positively about the process and a photo of him was published on the website of Azerbaijan’s election authorities in an article about election observers.

Labour MEP Linda McAvan and German CDU MEP David McAllister – the co-chairs of the European Parliament body which organises election observers – have now written to the ECR group about the visit by Mr Campbell Bannerman and the two Polish MEPs.

The letter says: “Their presence in Azerbaijan during this electoral process and subsequent public comments have, to put it mildly, come as a great surprise to us.”

And it adds: “We consider the act of sending ‘observers’ to countries in which the EP explicitly stated it would not observe, is extremely detrimental to the image of the European Parliament.

“It goes without saying that the effusive remarks by the aforementioned Members of your Group on the management and running of these elections are blatantly contradicted by the preliminary findings of the OSCE-ODIHR mission.”

The official election observers from the OSCE concluded the election “took place within a restrictive political environment and under laws that curtail fundamental rights and freedoms, which are prerequisites for genuine democratic elections.”

It was called a “farce” in the respected Foreign Policy magazine.

Azerbaijan’s incumbent president Ilham Aliyev secured a fourth term after winning 86% of votes in an election boycotted by many opposition parties who accused him of authoritarianism.

There were seven other candidates on the ballot paper but OSCE monitors said they refrained from criticising Mr Aliyev and also highlighted an “absence of pluralism” in the media.

Ballot box stuffing was among “numerous serious irregularities” that took place on polling day, the OSCE report noted.

A press conference at which the monitors announced their conclusions was interrupted by supporters of the president, who banged on tables and shouted accusations of bias.

On the day after the election, Mr Campbell Bannerman posted a photo on Twitter of him shaking hands with the newly re-elected president of Azerbaijan.

The president was first elected in October 2003, taking over from his father who had ruled the country for the ten previous years. 

All three of the elections won by the current president have fallen short of democratic standards, according to official observers.

Mr Aliyev has also fastened his grip on power with two referendums, one in 2009 that scrapped a two-term presidential limit and another in 2016 that extended the presidential term to seven years from five.

The letter from Ms McAvan and Mr McAllister informed the ECR that Mr Campbell Bannerman and the two Polish MEPs will not be able to represent the European Parliament as election observers for the remainder of this term.