Azeri Opposition Says Fraud Handed Aliyev Victory

BAKU (Reuters)–Azerbaijan’s opposition accused President Heydar Aliyev on Monday of using threats–violence and bribery to secure victory in a weekend referendum they said was a crude attempt to bring his ex-playboy son to power.

To screams of "liars–liars" from members of the pro-Aliyev party–who shook their fists at and almost came to blows with speakers–opposition parties said the aging leader intended to use the result of Saturday’s vote on constitutional change to secure a loyal successor.

As members of the pro-Aliyev party were restrained and shuffled out of the news conference–Ali Kerimov–representative of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party–said the presidential party’s tactics mirrored those used during the referendum.

"They would not listen to the truth so they created a scandal…This just goes to confirm that the Azerbaijan government maintains its hold on power by using physical force," a shaken Kerimov told Reuters.

"Despite threats–I will again say that August 24 (the day of the referendum) was marked by large-scale falsification and that these kind of people make it possible for such falsification to take place."

The oil-rich country’s Central Electoral Commission said on Sunday the vote was free and fair–with about 97 percent of those who cast ballots voting in favor and 2.9 percent against.

The commission said over 80 percent of the more than four million registered voters cast their ballot.

Pensioners Bused In

But the result was never in doubt in the minds of the pro-Aliyev political party or the opposition–which said it was marked by ballot-stuffing–intimidation and threats.

In a statement–11 of Azerbaijan’s more than 30 opposition parties said pensioners had been bused to polling stations under the pretense they would receive their monthly allowance.

They said opposition observers had been arrested or beaten when they tried to stop election officials from stuffing ballots into boxes–and that officials had voted "on behalf" of the mentally ill.

The normally fragmented opposition vowed to stage protests to call for Aliyev’s resignation over the poll–in which Azeris were asked to support changes to the 1995 constitution.

One amendment makes the prime minister officially the second most powerful person in Azerbaijan–standing in if the president cannot govern–instead of the parliamentary speaker as now.

As the prime minister is named by the president–unlike the speaker who is chosen by parliament–Aliyev will effectively be able to make his son–or another loyal ally–his legal stand-in by making him premier.

"The referendum was needed by the government to shore up its power–so it will be easier to pass on power to Aliyev’s family," Kerimov said. "They hope in the future to continue to use these means to falsify elections and keep a hold on power."

Aliyev–a former KGB officer and one-time Soviet communist politburo member–has become undisputed master of his Caspian Sea state since coming to power in 1993.

Aliyev–physically frail after heart bypass surgery in 1999–and his 40-year-old son–Ilgam–showed a united front during the referendum. But the younger Aliyev has a tough act to follow. And many are not sure he can or even wants to.


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