Opposition: Vote Had “Transparent Falsifications”
By Mina Muradova and Rufat Abbasov: 11/06/05

While Azerbaijan’s government has stated that the country’s long-awaited November 6 parliamentary elections were free and without disturbances, the country’s largest opposition bloc has already announced their intention to reject the election’s results.

Alleged “massive violations” of election law was the reason offered to journalists at a press conference Monday night in Baku. “From the beginning, the government imitated democratic elections in Azerbaijan. Now, we state that the elections took place with obvious and transparent falsifications,” said Popular Front Party Chairman Ali Kerimli, a leader of the Azadlig (Freedom) bloc, Azerbaijan’s largest opposition alliance.

Official results for the vote will not be announced until November 7. An Azadlig protest rally has already been planned, however, for November 8, Kerimli said. “Starting on this day, we will hold peaceful protest actions,” he said. -"We will not allow victory to be stolen from the people."

“We will definitely do everything to protect citizens’ votes,” said Musavat Party Chairman Isa Gambar, adding that Azadlig would demand the cancellation of election results.

The bloc will announce the preliminary results of its own vote monitoring, including observation of the vote count, on the afternoon of November 7.

President Ilham Aliyev and other government representatives emphasized throughout the day that the vote for Azerbaijan’s 125-seat parliament had been free and fair. International observers have presented the election as a key test of the country’s commitment to democracy, a key consideration for Azerbaijan as it increasingly focuses its foreign policy Westward.

To date, international organizations have given mixed assessments of the country’s parliamentary campaign, with particular concern expressed about police reaction to a series of unauthorized opposition rallies in Baku. An October 25 decree that instructed election officials to ink voters’ fingers to prevent multiple voting and to allow foreign-funded non-governmental organizations to observe the vote has been hailed as a significant step forward, however. On the eve of the election, US Ambassador Reno Harnish stated that the conditions existed for a democratic vote.

After voting Sunday morning at Baku’s School No. 6, an institution of which he is an alumnus, Aliyev emphasized Azerbaijan’s commitment to such an election. “The campaign was successful. Equal conditions were created for all candidates and it gives me hope the election will be democratic and transparent. The will of the people will be expressed in these elections, " Aliyev said.

"After the election, Azerbaijan will continue to develop in various directions, developing a strong economy ... and the process of democratization will continue after these elections," he added.

The preliminary results of opposition monitoring, however, suggest that strongly held reservations about the government’s commitment to that process still remain.

Azadlig leaders announced the preliminary results of their monitoring in 113 election constituencies at 7pm (Baku time) when polling stations closed to count votes. According to Azadlig campaign manager Panah Huseynov, the opposition observers registered more than 21,000 voting irregularities, most of which happened in the second half of the day, when “the number of violations tripled.”

Azadlig observers reportedly recorded 2,200 cases of state officials interfering in the election process, and more than 1,600 cases of voters receiving instructions about whom they should elect, Despite the provision of ink for marking voters’ fingers, the bloc claimed that 1,272 case of multiple voting occurred, and some 1122 instances of misapplication of ink or misuse of handheld lamps to detect the ink. Over 280 cases of police interference in the voting process were also recorded, Azadlig officials said.

Observation by a EurasiaNet correspondent at constituencies in Baku where key opposition leaders were featured as candidates revealed similar problems. At polling stations in #36 Fourth Khatai constituency where exiled Democratic Party of Azerbaijan Chairman Rasul Guliyev is running for election, and in #31 Second Surakhani constituency, where Kerimli was a candidate, missing names from voter lists and the misuse of ink on voters’ fingers appeared to be the most frequent irregularities. Often, voters who could not find their names on lists just left the polling stations. “I have no desire to go to court [to have my name added to the voter list] and have no desire to vote yet,” one voter, Minaya Gurbanova, said.

Sixty-four-year-old Almaz Guliyeva said that she was voting for the first time in a decade. But ink, not politics, drove her interest in the poll. “I don’t believe any of the candidates in my district. I just wanted to see how they mark my finger, because it is the first time in my life,” she said.

Azadlig claimed that misapplication of ink and misuse of ultraviolet lamps occurred frequently. According to bloc observers in Baku’s #46 Ali Bayramli constituency, #35 Khatai constituency and #9 Binaqadi constituency, water was used instead of invisible ink on voters’ fingers.

Ilqar Iskenderov, an opposition observer in Khatai’s #25 polling station, told EurasiaNet that the name of one citizen had been placed on lists in two different constituencies. “He voted in constituency #122 where his finger was marked and then came to our polling station, where his name was put as well. We found out that the earlier mark had not remained; it was not visible,” he said.

The Azadlig election headquarters has claimed that ink recently shipped from Georgia for marking voters’ fingers has proven to be useless.

Ink did little to stop another form of multiple, or “carousel,” voting, according to some opposition observers. Nizami Hasanoglu, an observer in polling stations #13 and #14 in Khatai, said that groups of voters had been transported to the polling stations by a mini-bus belonging to an unnamed oil company.

Transportation of voters to polling stations, instruction of voters by election commission officials or pro-government observers, and a refusal by police to admit opposition monitors into stations were among the other accusations.

Even electricity could play role, some observers claimed. In Surakhani constituency, Popular Front Party observer Irada Aliyeva and Musavat Party observer Gozel Bayramli came armed with pocket flashlights for the vote count – a defense against extra ballots being added during the power failures that sometimes characterize Azerbaijan’s election days, they said.

Kerimli has expressed a hope that international observers would provide “a principle objective evaluation of all violations.”

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which dispatched 663 monitors to Azerbaijan for the election, more than half of all international observers, will make its preliminary assessment public on November 7. US Ambassador Reno Harnish, who participated in monitoring the vote in #36 Fourth Khatai constituency, however, cautioned against passing judgement on Azerbaijan’s election on the basis of election day alone.

"We need to take into account the whole eight-month process," Harnish said.

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

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Ali Kerimli, leader of the opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front Party and his wife Samara Seyidova come to vote at Baku's 23rd constituency polling station. (Yigal Schleifer for Eurasianet)