Vote Count: Exit Polls and Official Results Slightly Differ
By Khadija Ismayilova: 11/07/05

Preliminary official results for Azerbaijan’s parliamentary elections show a stunning loss for the country’s main opposition alliance, Azadlig, while the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party has retained its control of parliament, albeit by a smaller margin. Meanwhile, despite initial expectations by some observers, a US government-funded exit poll posted few discrepancies with official results.

According to the Central Election Commission’s most recent figures, the Yeni Azerbaijan Party (YAP – New Azerbaijan Party) won 63 seats in the Azerbaijani parliament, while the Azadlig (Freedom) alliance secured only six seats. The results were for 123 out of 125 constitutencies; results have not yet been announced for the #57 Kurdemir and #63 First Sabirabad constituencies. [The preliminary official results are available here].

At a November 7 news conference, Central Election Commission Chairman Mazahir Panahov reported that Azadlig alliance members Musavat Party and Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan had won four and two seats, respectively. The Liberal Party of Azerbaijan, an Azadlig ally, won one seat. Smaller opposition parties Ana Veten, Civil Solidarity each won two, while the Social Prosperity, Great Creation, Civil Unity and United Popular Front Parties received one seat each. The Democratic Party of Azerbaijan, an Azadlig member whose exiled chairman, Rasul Guliyev, has recently been accused of plotting to overthrow the government in conjunction with various government officials, did not receive any seats. [For background see the EurasiaNet Insight archive].

Some confusion appears to exist about the official results for the opposition, however. Musavat Party representatives told EurasiaNet that their party had won seats in only three constituencies (#34, #41 and #79), while Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan officials could only name one of the two constituencies reportedly won (#69).

After YAP, independents – party members who did not run as official party nominees -- will be the second largest group in parliament with 41 seats. The remaining winners did not have an identifiable political affiliation.

Panahov said that the situation is still not clear in the #57 and #63 constituencies, but that Azadlig campaign manager Panah Huseyn appears to be leading the race in #63 First Sabirabad.

The YAP tally represents a 12-seat loss from its current 75-seat representation.

Azadlig, the Yeni Sisayet (YeS) bloc and the Liberal Party of Azerbaijan stated on November 7 that they plan to contest the election’s official results. Azadlig has announced plans to take its complaints to court. A source within the election alliance, who asked not to be named, said that the bloc had been encouraged in November 7 meetings with US Ambassador Reno Harnish and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to take their complaints to court. The alliance expects to win at least eight additional seats in parliament by appealing to the courts, the source said.

By the end of the day on November 7, discrepancies between the official results and those provided by an exit poll run by US Agency for International Development (USAID) contractor PA Consulting Group were limited to 10 constituencies. PA Consulting Group performed the poll in 65 of the total 125 constituencies. [PA Consulting Group results can are available here].

Panahov told journalists that the CEC had received116 complaints about constituency races between November 6 and 7. Results, he said, appeared doubtful in 10 constituencies, though emphasized that 85 percent of official results coincided with those of the PA Consulting Group exit poll.

The CEC and PA Consulting Group pollsters also differed on voter turnout. The exit pollsters recorded a 50 percent turnout rate, while the Commission showed just 46.83 percent of Azerbaijan’s 4.66 million voters took part in Sunday’s poll. The discrepancy could raise further questions about the outcome of races. PA Consulting Group, however, did not conduct exit polls in any constituencies that contained races with the major opposition leaders.

Despite the similarity in results, questions remain about how the PA Consulting Group exit poll was conducted, Panahov said. The CEC reportedly received a large number of complaints about the company’s exit pollsters from voters. “In some cases, the pollsters were relatives of opposition candidates,” Panahov said. The opposition Azadlig alliance has also stated that it has received numerous complaints about the US-funded exit poll, but in reference to family ties between pollsters and YAP candidates. The bloc has expressed previous concerns that the American pollster’s local partner, SORGUS (Survey), has pro-government sympathies. [For background see the EurasiaNet Insight archive].

The US embassy issued a statement on November 7 that emphasized that political neutrality was one of the features of the USAID-funded poll. Results from New York City-based exit pollster Mitofsky International and Saar Poll, an Estonian company, have attracted less official notice. [The results can be seen here]. In by-district results published by Mitofsky more than half of the 125 constituencies polled were identified as “too close to call,” meaning that the difference between leading candidates in a race was less than the poll’s margin of error. Like PA Consulting Group, Saar Poll results posted discrepancies with official results in up to 10 constituencies. Saar Poll did not show Azadlig leaders Isa Gambar, Ali Kerimli and Rasul Guliyev in any of their respective races.

Opposition representatives, who have charged previously that the two polling companies were recruited by President Ilham Aliyev’s administration, have announced that they do not plan to use the results of Mitofsky International and Saar Poll for comparison with official results. [For background see the EurasiaNet Insight archive].

Editor’s Note: Khadija Ismayilova is a freelance journalist based in Baku

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A woman drops her completed exit poll form into a mock ballot box for Edison/Mitofski outside a Baku polling station on election day. (Dean Cox for EurasiaNet)