International Community and Opposition Say Parliamentary Vote Marked By Massive Fraud
Sloughing off allegations of vote fraud, Azerbaijan's ruling party is claiming an overwhelming victory in parliamentary elections. The election indicates that Azerbaijan's governing elite is willing to risk international censure in order to ensure a political transition in which President Heidar Aliev can hand off power to his son.
According to preliminary results, the New Azerbaijan party dominated the election, garnering just over 70 percent of the vote in proportional polling, the Turan news agency reports. Of the other 12 registered political parties, only the Popular Front polled more than the required 6 percent. Thus, the New Azerbaijan stands to gain almost all 25 seats at stake under the proportional system. The other 100 seats in the 125-member parliament were to be determined in first-past-the-post votes. The New Azerbaijan party appeared to dominate those contests as well. Election officials said about 70 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the election.
The results were marred, however, by charges of massive election fraud. Opposition political leaders and representatives of international organizations, including the OSCE, said monitors observed systematic vote manipulation, including the stuffing of ballot boxes. Several international rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and the European Institute for the Media, assailed Azerbaijan's government, the Central Election Commission in particular, for campaign irregularities that constituted a departure from democratic norms.
The leading opposition party, Musavat, issued a statement on November 6 that asserted only about 35 percent of registered voters actually participated in the election, not the 70 percent claimed by election officials. Musavat claimed that if the vote had been free and fair, it would have emerged as the victor. "The Musavat Party declares that it is impossible to recognize the results of these elections, which have been [attained] by total falsification," the party statement said. At least a dozen other political parties also refused to recognize the election.
The results leave Ilham Aliev, the son of the 77-year-old president, poised to become parliament speaker. The younger Aliev headed the New Azerbaijan party list. Both Heider and Ilham Aliev have attempted to discourage talk of a dynastic political transition, as Ilham has publicly stated on several occasions that he has no desire to assume the speakership. However, other leaders of the New Azerbaijan party have spoken openly of plans to install Ilham as parliament leader. Under Azerbaijan's political framework, the speaker of parliament would become president if the incumbent decides to step down before the end of the presidential term, or if the leader becomes incapacitated.
The controversy surrounding the conduct of the parliamentary elections could cause substantial damage to Azerbaijan. Gerard Stoudmann, the director of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, told a press conference that the parliamentary vote was marked by widespread fraud. "We did not expect such primitive methods to be used," Stoudmann said. Other international observers had similar evaluations. "Never before have we seen so many falsified ballots," Andreas Gross, who headed the Council or Europe's Parliamentary Assembly observer mission, reported to the Turan News Agency.
Given the severe international criticism, the pressure may increase on the Council of Europe to postpone the acceptance of Azerbaijan as a full member of the organization. Postponement of accession to the Council could, in turn, complicate efforts to settle Azerbaijan's conflict with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh. "Heidar Aliyev's regime has brought the country and its population to a difficult situation," said Etibar Mamedov, the leader of the opposition National Independence party.