Officials in Azerbaijan Claim Fair Vote, While Opposition Cries Foul
By Khadija Ismayilova: 11/06/05

Representatives of Azerbaijan’s governing Yeni Azerbaijan Party insisted that the November 6 parliamentary elections were free and fair. But opposition leaders denounced the elections as fraudulent, citing thousands of examples of misconduct. Opposition discontent would appear to set the stage for mass protests once the vote totals are announced.

After polling stations closed, Ali Ahmadov, the deputy chairman of YAP, which is led by President Ilham Aliyev and which holds a commanding majority in the sitting parliament, hailed the November 6 balloting as transparent and largely untainted by manipulation. Azerbaijan had come under international pressure in recent months to conduct a free-and-fair vote. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].

Pro-government media quoted Commonwealth of Independent States observers, along with independent US monitors, as praising the election process. A spokesman for an independent observer mission sponsored by US-based William Jewell College and Webster University, Bob Holden (a Democrat who served as Missouri’s governor for one term), claimed that election workers in precincts observed by his team demonstrated a high level of professionalism. When asked what Azerbaijani institution served as the sponsor of his mission, Holden replied that it was Azerbaijan’s Central Election Commission (CEC). A representative of the American Embassy in Baku said that Holden’s mission was in no way affiliated with or sponsored by the US government. Both William Jewell College and Webster University are based in the US state of Missouri.

Opposition leaders universally pronounced the voting to be marred by irregularities. Thousands of election monitors affiliated with the main opposition Azadlig bloc reported 21,104 election violations in 113 of the 125 constituencies by 7 pm on November 6. Most of the complaints concerned improper inking of fingers to prevent multiple voting. Panah Husein, Azadlig’s campaign manager, suggested at a news conference that these parliamentary elections could turn out to be Azerbaijan’s worst ever.

Opposition leaders went on to complain that government-controlled election commissions, including the CEC, largely ignored opposition complaints. Representatives of Azerbaijan’s other main opposition alliance, known as YeS, also said that irregularities were widespread.

Perhaps the most serious electoral violation involved the obstruction of opposition-affiliated election workers from involvement in the ballot-counting process. For example, Fuad Mustafayev, an Azadlig candidate from the #21 Nasimi constituency, reported that four local opposition-affiliated election commission members were detained during a day, adding that most opposition representatives in precinct commissions were prevented from carrying out their duties of observing the balloting and participating in the counting of the votes.

Helping to stoke opposition concerns about fraud, preliminary results showed prominent Azadlig and YeS leaders, including Ali Kerimli, Isa Gambar and Eldar Namazov, all trailing governing party candidates in their respective electoral constituencies. Kerimli and Gambar of Azadlig and Namazov of YeS had been widely expected to win seats in the next parliament.

Five opposition members of the Central Election Commission appealed to President Aliyev to put an immediate stop to the election violations, but their complaint was not acted upon. Vidadi Mahmudlu, a Musavat representative on the CEC, asserted that sufficient evidence of fraud existed to warrant the cancellation of election results in at least 20 constituencies.

In addition to the harassment of opposition-affiliated monitors and election workers, journalists reported that they were barred from entering polling stations. Meanwhile, many would-be voters complained that their names had been improperly left off lists of registered voters, and thus were unable to cast ballots.

CEC chief Mazahir Panahov suggested at a news conference that only minor violations had occurred on election day. Azer Sariyev, a CEC spokesperson, told EurasiaNet that election officials would thoroughly investigate the complaints brought by opposition candidates. However, opposition-affiliated CEC members accused their colleagues of turning a blind eye to the falsification of the results.

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A woman casts her ballot in the polling station of Baku's 25th constituency. The polling station was located inside the city's Russian Language Theater. (Yigal Schleifer for Eurasianet)