Azeri Ruling Party Wins Criticized Poll

BAKU (Reuters)–Official figures showed on Monday that Azerbaijan’s ruling party had won a weekend parliamentary election but international observers slammed the vote as undemocratic and the opposition derided it.

The observers in the former Soviet state on the Caspian Sea reported ballot stuffing–pre-marked ballots and manipulated turnout results in the Sunday poll.

Previous elections in the country have also been criticized by international bodies.

The vote had marked the political debut of Ilham Aliyev–son of long-serving President Haydar Aliyev–with ruling party officials saying they eventually hoped for a father-son succession.

With votes counted from almost 71 percent of districts–Aliyev’s ruling Yeni Azerbaijan party had won 70.83 percent of the vote–according to the Central Electoral Commission.

International observers were unimpressed.

“Elections in Azerbaijan fell short of international standards and significant improvemen’s will have to be achieved in order to meet such standards for democratic elections,” said Paula Kokkonen of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Kokkonen said turnout was much lower than the 72 percent figure given by officials.

According to the CEC’s figures–only one of four major opposition groups had broken the six percent barrier needed to win a share of 25 seats distributed proportionally. And even the showing of that party–the Popular Front–was far worse than expected.

Of 57 winners announced in the 100 individual districts up for grabs–only four were won by the opposition.

The OSCE was one of the bodies observing the poll along with the Council of Europe–a rights and democracy body which is this week to consider Azerbaijan’s bid to join it. Members of the Council’s delegation gave the vote the thumbs down.

“The majority of us (observers) have been deeply disappointed by one of the most undemocratic observations we have had to make,” said Andreas Gross–head of a delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

The country had won a favorable recommendation from the parliamentary assembly this year–but only after Azeri officials pledged this vote would show an improvement over previous polls.

Azeri Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliyev was confident despite the observers’ criticism.

“I don’t think that critical assessmen’s by international observers will affect the decision on Azerbaijan’s membership in the Council of Europe,” he told independent ANS television.

Officials said reports of violations would be checked but opposition figures dismissed the ballot.

“The data from the CEC is a total desecration,” said Nazim Imanov–deputy head of the National Independence Party.

“It has nothing in common with the results of the election and demonstrates once again that the authorities do not want democracy to be established.”

Official figures gave the Popular Front party 6.43 percent. The center-right Musavat had 4.71 percent while the National Independence Party lay fourth with 3.88 percent–according to CEC figures. The Popular Front and Musavat had been expected to win about six seats each in the assembly.

“These election are a stain on Azerbaijan’s history,” said Etibar Mamedov–National Independence Party head.

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