International Observers Find Fault with Azerbaijan’s Parliamentary Elections
By Mina Muradova and Rufat Abbasov: 11/07/05

The preliminary findings of international observers tend to support opposition claims that Azerbaijan’s parliamentary elections were marred by massive irregularities.

According to a statement issued by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the most serious problem connected with the November 6 election concerned the counting process. “Voting was generally calm, but the election day process deteriorated progressively during the counting, and, in particular, the tabulation of votes,” the November 7 statement said.

The US government criticized the conduct of the election. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli noted “there were major irregularities and fraud that are of serious concern.” Like the OSCE, Ereli said that Washington would urge an immediate Azerbaijani government investigation into the allegations of fraud and manipulation. A statement issued by a coalition of human rights groups, including the Norwegian Helsinki Committee and the Human Rights Center of Azerbaijan, said that the “elections once again appear to have been grossly manipulated.”

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev defended the conduct of the elections, asserting that Azerbaijan had entered a new stage of democratic development. “Azerbaijan’s people expressed their will in transparent and free conditions -- voting for their preferred candidate openly, fairly and democratically,” Aliyev said November 7 in an interview with state television.

Responding directly to reports of irregularities, Aliyev said the Prosecutor-General’s office would investigate alleged violations and punish those responsible. "We cooperate very successfully with the Council of Europe, OSCE and other international organizations, because their opinions are very important for us. The points specified in the preliminary report will be studied thoroughly and relevant strict measures shall be undertaken," the president said. At the same time, the Azerbaijani president insisted that misconduct was not widespread. “There were violations of the election law in seven to eight constituencies," Aliyev said.

The Chairman of Azerbaijan’s Central Election Commission (CEC), Mazahir Panahov, appeared to downplay criticism from international election monitors. “They did not come [to Azerbaijan] to praise us,” he said during a November 7 news conference.

The only contingent that did not find major fault with the election’s conduct was the Commonwealth of Independent States observer mission. Mission chief Vladimir Rushaylo told journalists on November 7 that election irregularities were small in number and did not influence the outcome of parliamentary races. “The parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan took place in accordance with the norms of the existing election law in the country,” the statement of CIS mission said.

Official results from 92 percent of polling stations indicate that the governing Yeni Azerbaijan Party has secured an outright majority of seats – 64 out of 125 – in the next parliament. The CEC totals also show the opposition Azadlig bloc winning five seats. Independent candidates appeared set to win a large share of the remaining seats. Among the prominent candidates to win parliamentary seats were Azerbaijan’s first lady, Mehriban Aliyeva, and the president’s uncle, Jalal Aliyev, who won reelection.

The OSCE, working through its Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, provided the most detailed view into election misconduct. The group had over 665 monitors on the ground to observe voting procedures. The OSCE statement characterized ballot counting by election officials as “bad” or “very bad” in 43 percent of the tabulations observed. Violations included “tampering with protocols, intimidation of observers and unauthorized persons directing the process.” Andres Herkel, co-rapporteur for Azerbaijan for the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) monitoring mission, described himself as in “shock” over the ballot-counting misconduct, ANS television reported.

In addition, election monitors identified irregularities in 13 percent of observed polling stations. Among the infractions were instances of unauthorized persons pressuring voters, election officials filling out result protocols in pencil and ballot-box stuffing. Authorities also failed to properly ink voters’ hands to prevent multiple voting in approximately 11 percent of election constituencies. The statement additionally noted that “domestic [election] observers and even members of polling station commissions were observed being expelled from polling stations.”

“It was encouraging to see so many local observers present in polling stations, but this was undermined by consistent reports that many faced problems, including intimidation, being expelled from polling stations and not receiving protocols and other information,” the OSCE statement quoted Michael Clapham, head of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly delegation, as saying.

Andreas Gross, the other PACE co-rapporteur, raised the possibility that the Parliamentary Assembly might consider in early 2006 a resolution to freeze Azerbaijan’s mandate in the organization.

Azerbaijani opposition leaders are seeking to hold a new election, saying the results of the November 6 vote should be annulled. Ali Kerimli, a leader of the Azadlig bloc, indicated that the opposition protests would demand a fresh election. Authorities in Baku denied an opposition request to hold a mass rally on November 8, granting a permit only for the next day.

The OSCE statement noted that Azerbaijan’s political climate had experienced some improvements during the campaign period, including the easing of registration procedures that enabled the participation of over 1,500 candidates, along with presidential decrees designed to improve the transparency of the election process. “It pains me to report that progress noted in the pre-election period was undermined by significant deficiencies in the count,” said the OSCE statement quoted PACE President Alcee L. Hastings as saying.

Editor’s Note: Mina Muradova and Rufat Abbasov are freelance journalists in Baku.

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US Congressman Alcee Hastings, special coordinator of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's election monitoring in Azerbaijan, speaks at a Baku press conference in which he delivered his group's report criticizing the Nov. 6 elections in Azerbaijan. To his right is Leo Platvoet, of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly observer mission, and Loic Bourard, of NATO's observer group. (Yigal Schliefer for EurasiaNet)