Opposition leaders are attempting to cast doubt on President Ilham Aliyev's landslide victory in Azerbaijan's election on October 15. Meanwhile, international observers praised the balloting as "well prepared," while lamenting "a lack of genuine competition."
Aliyev, the incumbent, secured more than 89 percent of the vote, according to official preliminary results released on October 16. Turnout was placed at over 75 percent of Azerbaijan's 4.8 million voters. Umid (Hope) Party Chairman Iqbal Agazade made a barely visible second-place finish with 2.78 percent of the vote.
Leaders of the five-member opposition coalition that boycotted the election have announced plans for an October 18 demonstration in Baku against the vote's conduct and results. Officials so far have denied permission for the event. "We did not receive approval for a single demonstration before the election and now they provoke us to hold unsanctioned rallies," Eldar Namazov, president of the Public Forum for Azerbaijan and a former advisor to Aliyev's late father, former president Heidar Aliyev. According to Namazov, nine proposed venues so far have been rejected.
"We will not give up. We will hold protests even despite official prohibition," Namazov continued.
The opposition charges that the election was a government-scripted performance from beginning to end. Another opposition leader, Ali Kerimli, chairman of the Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan told a news conference on October 16 that officials had forced state employees to vote for Ilham Aliyev.
The findings of one group of domestic observers tend to support that claim. In an October 16 statement, the non-governmental Council for Free and Fair Elections charged that "students and employees of budget-funded structures said that they had to submit to their supervisors their [election] notification cards with a polling station stamp to prove that they had taken part in the election." In some regions outside of Baku, the Coalition claimed, local officials took residents out of their houses to polling stations. So-called "carousel" voting was also reported.
No intervention by police or other law enforcement structures was recorded. Some other domestic observer groups have issued similar preliminary findings.
Namazov called Aliyev's opponents "puppets of the authorities" whom, he claimed, had helped the candidates collect signatures to register for the race. "Those rivals rushed to congratulate him [Aliyev] after the early returns were announced. They were allowed to participate in the election only for show," Namazov charged.
None of Aliyev's six rivals has disputed the election results; some congratulated him as the winner late on election night, even before the official preliminary results were made public.
A senior government official has rebuffed the opposition's allegations. "The opposition boycotted the presidential vote knowing that they have no chance for victory," Ali Hasanov, head of the presidential administration's Public and Political Affairs Department, told reporters on October 16. "We recognized as legitimate that opposition which is really participating in the election."
International observers also took issue with opposition parties for boycotting the vote, saying that it limited voters' choices. "According to our observations on election day, the election was well prepared and largely carried out smoothly. However, a lack of genuine competition -- due to the boycott of major opposition parties and the absence of a real campaign -- have to be deeply deplored," commented Marie Anne Isler Beguin, head of the European Parliament delegation.
The observers, which also included missions from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, described the vote as showing "considerable progress," but found that it "did not meet all of the country's international commitments."
"Pluralism, the fairness of the campaign environment and the media" were among the trouble areas cited by Ambassador Boris Frlec, head of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights' observation mission. "Shortcomings" with the vote count and tabulation, a long-standing complaint, were also spotted on election day, the observers' statement read.
Mina Muradova is a freelance reporter in Baku.