Aliyev Claims Victory Amid Reports of Fraud

BAKU (Reuters)–Azerbaijan’s electoral commission refused again on Tuesday to give any preliminary results from Sunday’s presidential vote–but incumbent Haydar Aliyev insisted he had been re-elected.

His main challenger Etibar Mamedov has alleged the use of fraud and said there should be a runoff. International observers have also criticized the way the poll was conducted.

"We will not give any preliminary results–so nobody can make insinuations. We will announce the winner on Thursday," Central Elections Commission spokesman Arif Huseinov said.

Huseinov told Reuters that based on the announcement from Aliyev’s camp that he had won "there can’t be any talk of a second round."

Aliyev–75–told a news conference: "According to my information I received over 75 percent of the vote. If the Central Elections Commission announces me as the winner–then the opinions of the other contenders will not make any difference."

He needs two-thirds of the vote for outright victory.

Aliyev brushed aside criticisms from international observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe–who said on Monday there had been abuses during campaigning–voting and counting.

The OSCE and Council of Europe "could have been more objective. The results depend on the Central Elections Commission–not on me or international observers," he said.

The commission–which controls regional and local electoral boards–is dominated by Aliyev backers.

The observers’ statement said state media had openly promoted Aliyev’s campaign–local officials had interfered with election procedures and there had been clear evidence of ballot box stuffing.

The US based National Democratic Institute (NDI) released a preliminary report on Tuesday detailing similar abuses–including ballot box stuffing and intimidation.

It said it was "very disturbing" that the violations appeared to be systematic and almost all of them were committed so as to favor Aliyev. It urged the president to investigate.

OSCE mission chairman Nickolay Volchanov also said turnout was suspiciously high in some areas.

Some polling places–especially in rural areas–reported a near 100 percent turnout. This would be unusual–especially in a country where many people are believed to have left for work abroad because of difficult economic circumstances.

Mamedov said the Central Elections Commission was now doctoring the vote–which was the reason for its silence.

Other prominent challengers boycotted from the outset–saying it was pointless to compete when Aliyev–who ran the oil-producing Caspian state in the Soviet era–would rig the election anyway.

Aliyev’s government–like many others along the southern fringes of the former Soviet Union–has frequently been criticized for human rights abuses.

Azerbaijan’s state-run press–loyal to Aliyev–made no mention of the controversy on Tuesday. The Russian-language Baku Worker carried a headline calling the vote "a celebration of law–fairness and democracy."

Its four-page edition featured seven photographs of Aliyev casting his ballot and meeting various dignitaries.

Aliyev campaigned on themes of stability–pointing to a cease-fire with ethnic Armenian forces in the long conflict over the disputed Karabakh region–and $40 billion in deals to develop Azerbaijan’s offshore Caspian energy reserves. The contracts have yet to help many Azeris mired in poverty.

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