Azerbaijan: Election Day Proves a Snooze
Exit polls gave President Ilham Aliyev an impressive re-election victory in Azerbaijan's presidential election on October 15. Although no official results have yet been released, the celebrations began early at the governing Yeni Azerbaijan Party headquarters.
The victory of Ilham Aliyev is a victory for all the Azerbaijani people, Yeni Azerbaijan Party Executive Secretary Ali Ahmadov declared at an evening rally in Baku, the APA news agency reported. Ahmadov claimed that the 46-year-old Aliyev won re-election by a wide margin.
According to the preliminary results of an exit poll conducted by the non-governmental organization coalition Free, Transparent, Fair Elections in 125 polling stations, President Aliyev secured 85.7 percent of the vote.
Opposition candidate Igbal Agazade, chairman of the Umid (Hope) Party, came a distant second with 3.5 percent of vote, the coalition's preliminary findings showed.
A second exit poll, run by the Association for Civil Society Development in Azerbaijan and the ELS Independent Research Center, gave Aliyev 82.6 percent of the vote. In these results, Agazade made a slight gain, edging up to 5 percent of the vote for a second-place finish.
Final exit poll results are expected on October 16, when official preliminary results will also be released.
As a televised concert got under way in front of YAP headquarters, the Central Election Commission announced late on October 15 that the election drew 75.65 percent of the country's 4.83 million voters. Voters in the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, home to the Aliyev family, were the most active, with 90.9 percent of registered voters showing up at the polls, reportedly.
NGOs monitoring the vote reported a similarly high turnout.
The five-member opposition coalition that boycotted the vote had no comment about the election's conduct. One of the six candidates opposing Aliyev, Fazil Gazanfaroglu, has already congratulated the incumbent president as the winner.
While many domestic observers described the vote as far smoother than the 2003 election, when violent protests followed Aliyev's disputed victory, not all monitors are expected to be pleased with the process.
"It is the most passive election in Azerbaijan's history," commented Emin Huseynov, chairman of Baku's Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety, a media watchdog organization. "During the 2005 parliamentary elections, polling stations were crowded, but this time we do not see that." [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Television broadcasters and government officials have repeated throughout the day that a strong turnout would be an indicator that the election will be judged "very important and democratic."
Voting began at 8 am and will continue until 7 pm, local time. Official preliminary results are expected at 10 pm (about 1 pm US Eastern Standard Time). All signs point to Aliyev winning reelection by a comfortable margin.
Aliyev and his six rival candidates had all voted by early afternoon. While President Aliyev did not comment after casting his ballot, one candidate, Aydinlar (Intellectuals) Party Chairman Gulamhusseyn Alibayli, struck a positive note, telling journalists that he believed "that the voting process will be objective."
Some Baku voters, meanwhile, expressed concern over the perceived lack of choice in this election, even though there were seven presidential contenders. "To whom can I give my vote? There is no worthy man," fumed 70-year-old Seid Mammadov. "I always took part in voting and what I have seen from them? A 70-manat (about $87.5) pension and high prices for everything. They promised everything before the elections, but after the elections they will forget about us."
Not all pensioners shared Mammadov's sentiments, however. Another retiree, 65-year-old Ganzanfar Agayev, praised the changes brought about by a building boom that occurred during Aliyev's first term in office. "If a new person came to power, he would need time to become familiar with everything and another five years would pass," said Agayev said. "I have seen his [Aliyev's] work. Everything is not good, but the other candidates' capabilities are unclear."
Showing that Azerbaijan knows how to hold a well-organized election is key for Aliyev's administration, which has overseen one of the world's fastest growing economies in recent years, and has touted the energy-rich country to investors as a haven of stability in a traditionally unstable region. International observers have never declared an Azerbaijani national election to be democratic. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
As of early afternoon, monitoring groups interviewed by EurasiaNet reported having received reports of only isolated problems. The Center for Civil Society, a non-governmental organization that is running an exit poll in all 125 constituencies nationwide, reported a clean ride by mid-afternoon. "I can say that the elections are being held normally. There is no serious interference so far," said Eldar Ismaylov, director of the Center, which will announce its exit poll results on October 16.
One group -- the media watchdog organization headed by Huseynov -- noted some problems. Huseynov said that his monitors had received information from school, government and State Oil Company of [the] Azerbaijan Republic employees that they had allegedly been "threatened with dismissal if they would not vote and if they would not vote for Ilham Aliyev." He added that he had received a report of "carrousel" voting in Baku's Khatai district, and said other procedures in some precincts had not been followed.
The Center for Civil Society, a non-governmental organization that is running an exit poll in all 125 constituencies nationwide, reported a clean ride by mid-afternoon. "I can say that the elections are being held normally. There is no serious interference so far," said Eldar Ismaylov, director of the Center, which will announce its exit poll results on October 16.
The International Election Observation Mission deployed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the European Parliament will announce the findings of its 440 observers at a press-conference on October 16.
Mina Muradova is a freelance journalist in Baku.
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