With the preliminary results in, Azerbaijan’s November 7 parliamentary voting saw only one clear opposition candidate gain a seat in the country’s 125-member parliament. Independent election monitors say they observed numerous irregularities during the voting.
Preliminary vote results, announced in the early hours of November 8, gave 72 seats out of a total of 125 to President Ilham Aliyev’s Yeni Azerbaijan Party. Aliyev’s wife, Mehriban Aliyeva, won reelection with a reported 94.49 percent of the vote – the highest show of support for any candidate, the Central Election Commission (CEC) announced (CEC).
Ten new parties will be represented in parliament with an additional 13 deputies; only one of them -- İgbal Agazade of the Umid (Hope) Party – is known for taking critical views of the government.
None of the 40 candidates from Azerbaijan’s main opposition bloc -- the Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan (PFPA) and Musavat Party – won enough votes to enter parliament, according to the CEC.
The leaders of both parties – Ali Kerimli of the PFPA and Isa Gambor of Musavat – lost to their opponents. The CEC claims that Lider (Leader) TV reporter Etibar Huseynov, who hosts a program known for its speculation about opposition leaders’ private lives, trounced Gambar, supposedly by a four-to-one margin. Similarly, ex-political prisoner Faraj Guliyev was declared a winner over Kerimli.
Denouncing the election for allegedly establishing a “monarchy,” the PFPA-Musavat alliance has called for fresh elections to be held. Both opposition leaders have been the target of consistent media attacks and smear campaigns since Azerbaijan’s election season kicked off. The two men in September announced plans to form a single party after the parliamentary poll.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety filmed serious irregularities in Kerimli’s and Gambar’s districts, as well as in a number of other districts. [This reporter formerly worked as the Baku bureau chief for RFE/RL. In addition, The Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety receives funding from the Open Society Foundation – Azerbaijan, part of the network of Open Society Foundations. EurasiaNet.org operates under the auspices of the Open Society Institute, a separate part of that network.]
The Election Monitoring and Democratic Studies Center, which receives Western financing, also noted widespread violations throughout the country.
Several local election monitoring groups, funded by the government or with unclear financing, asserted, meanwhile, that they did not registered any violations that could impact the final results.
International observers were treading cautiously on the question of election law violations. “Voting on election day was assessed positively in almost 90 per cent of the polling stations visited, while serious problems were noted in 10 per cent,” observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR), the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and the European Parliament announced in a November 8 statement.
“Counting deteriorated, with almost a third of polling stations observed rated bad or very bad, with worrying problems like ballot box stuffing noted in a number of places.”
An international observation mission source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told EurasiaNet.org that the language for the group’s joint final statement had caused heated discussions among participating missions.
Citing concerns with “restrictions of fundamental freedoms, media bias, the dominance of public life by one party and serious violations on election day,” the head of the OSCE/ODIHR long-term observation mission, Ambassador Audrey Glover, a British human rights lawyer, stated that “the conditions necessary for a meaningful democratic election were not established.” The mission, however, expressed its willingness to work with Azerbaijan to bring its elections into compliance with the standards of the OSCE.
Some international observers, though, went a slight step beyond that diplomatic language.
Anneli Jäätteenmäki, a former Finnish prime minister and the head of the European Parliament’s mission, commented that the elections “were technically well organized and held in a peaceful atmosphere,” but underlined that “Azerbaijan has to make further efforts to ensure greater democratization” and to make sure that its “economic growth and stability” are “reinforced by greater political liberalization and democratization.”
Azerbaijani media outlets earlier reported CEC Chairperson Mazahir Panahov as saying that complaints about the vote would be examined, and results annulled “if we find major irregularities.” No other response from election or government officials was immediately available.
Khadija Ismayilova is a freelance reporter based in Baku.