Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Azeri Opposition Claims Election Stolen

The authorities say their candidates swept the board in a mostly fair vote, but their opponents argue fraud was widespread enough to nullify the election results.
By Emil Guliyev

Despite assurances from the Azerbaijani authorities and some international observers that the November 6 parliamentary election was largely fair, opposition parties have reported substantial ballot-rigging and say they will hold nationwide rallies to demand that the results be annulled.

As the Central Election Commission, CEC, released preliminary results late on November 7, the day after the vote, the ruling Yeni (New) Azerbaijan Party, YAP, was shown with a clear lead, with its candidates ahead in more than half the 125 constituencies (for the same number of seats in the Milli Mejlis or national assembly).

By contrast, the Azadlig (Freedom) coalition that brought together the opposition Popular Front, Musavat and Democratic parties, looked likely to win just six seats. None of the three parties' leaders – Ali Kerimli, Isa Gambar and Rasul Guliyev - got through, according to the CEC. Kerimli lost to a little-known YAP candidate, and Gambar was defeated by Adil Aliev, the pro-government candidate who is chief of police in the Narimanov district of Baku where he was standing.

Guliyev, also defeated in his constituency, was not actually in Azerbaijan for the election – when he recently tried to return to Baku after an eight-year exile, his plane was unable to land but the affair blew up into a national scandal, with senior government ministers arrested on charges of helping the opposition leader plan a coup.

President Ilham Aliev, who made a number of changes to election procedures – albeit rather late in the day – which he said would help ensure a free and fair election, hailed the early results on November 7, saying they showed that overall, the vote reflected the will of the people.

Aliev also promised tough retribution, including prosecution, for anyone found to have violated election rules. But the authorities and the opposition are likely to remain deeply divided on the extent of such breaches of procedure, and as a result the legitimacy of the election as a whole.

CEC chief Mazahir Panahov accepted that there had been some problems, and even that in some constituencies the reported outcome was so dubious that it might be annulled. However, he insisted that "there is no need to exaggerate the criticisms made by certain election observers".

YAP executive secretary Ali Ahmed also downplayed any problems, asserting that the elections were up to international standards. "There have been some minor violations, but they do not affect the overall outcome," he said.

The opposition have cried foul, saying fraudulent practices were widespread enough to render the election illegitimate. The head of Azadlig's campaign headquarters, Panah Huseyn, said monitors from the group had recorded 21,104 instances where the election law had been broken.

Gambar put it more succinctly, calling the results announced by the CEC "a political perversion".

Azadlig pledged to mount a protest campaign to press its demand for the election to be annulled. "The Azadlig bloc does not recognise the results of these elections, and it announces the start of protest actions. Our first rally will take place on November 9," said a statement from the coalition.

Another opposition bloc, the more moderate Yeni Siyaset (New Politics), has also refused to recognise the results, although for the moment it looks likely to adopt a different response. Founding member Eldar Namazov said Yeni Siyaset would work through the courts to press for those responsible for ballot-rigging to be prosecuted.

The large number of election monitors who flew in for the election were also divided on the extent of the problems.

Predictably, the team sent by the Commonwealth of Independent States – a Russian-led grouping of former Soviet states – found little wrong with the ballot. More surprising, perhaps was the positive assessment given by three members of the Estonian parliament.

However, the International Election Observer Mission, IEOM, drawn from various OSCE and Council of Europe bodies struck a different note. Speaking for the observer group, US Congressman Alcee Hastings, the current chair of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, said, "The shortcomings that were observed, particularly during election day, have led us to conclude that the elections did not meet Azerbaijan's international commitments on elections."

The IEOM's initial statement set out a litany of problems including simple ballot-stuffing, failure to check for the ink used stain voters' fingers and thus prevent repeat voting, "bad or very bad" practice in almost half the counts observed, tampering with written count results, cases where people who should not have been present were directing activities, and other cases where observers who should have been present were thrown out of polling stations.

Emil Guliyev and Emin Alekperov are correspondents for the Kaspiy newspaper in Baku.