Officials in Azerbaijan Claim Fair Vote,
While Opposition Cries Foul
By Khadija Ismayilova: 11/06/05
Representatives of Azerbaijans 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.
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 Missouris 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 Azerbaijans Central Election Commission
(CEC). A representative of the American Embassy in Baku
said that Holdens 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
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, Azadligs campaign manager, suggested at a
news conference that these parliamentary elections could
turn out to be Azerbaijans worst ever.
Opposition leaders went on to complain that government-controlled
election commissions, including the CEC, largely ignored
opposition complaints. Representatives of Azerbaijans
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
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
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