US Helsinki Commissioners Express Disappointment in Azeri Elections

WASHINGTON–Members of the US Helsinki Commission voiced disappointment today about the elections in Azerbaijan–complaining that they were marred by numerous procedural violations–ballot stuffing–and government intimidation of opposition supporters.

"We were hoping this election would mark a first step for democracy in Azerbaijan. Leading up to the election–the President of Azerbaijan made technical improvemen’s designed to make the election as free and fair as possible. Unfortunately–the authorities who implemented the election did not pass the test. As is clear from the OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] assessment–Baku has failed to fully observe its obligations under the Helsinki Final Act–hindering the democratic process in Azerbaijan," said Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS).

The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe–also known as the Helsinki Commission–is a US Government agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords. The Commission consists of nine members from the United States Senate–nine from the House of Representatives–and one member each from the Departmen’s of State–Defense–and Commerce.

"The high expectation that the elections would move democratization forward in Azerbaijan has–regretfully–not been realized," added Commission Co-Chairman–Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ). "Not only did the Azeri elections not meet international standards–any improvemen’s in the election process itself were later undermined by fraud after the polls closed."

According to Azerbaijan’s Central Election Commission–47 percent of the 4.5 million registered voters cast their ballots in parliamentary elections that were held to choose from among 1,500 candidates. With more than 90% of the ballots counted–the ruling Yeni (New) Azerbaijan Party has won 62 of 125 seats–with the main opposition Azadlig Bloc netting only 5 seats. Azerbaijan’s Central Election Commission has claimed that there were no reports of serious violations.

"There is not even the pretense that the elections results are legitimate," said Commission Member–Representative Ben Cardin (D-MD). "It is not at all clear where Azerbaijan goes from here–but I am not optimistic. The international community is clearly going to have to make its displeasure heard."

Azerbaijan is about to become a major oil exporter as the country begins to tap into its vast reserves and to export them via pipeline through Georgia to Turkey. International observers had hoped that Azerbaijan would see the establishment of a stable democratic system before an energy export boom began in earnest.

"Technical improvemen’s made to the election procedures did not compensate for faulty results in some of the districts," added Brownback. "We recognize the President of Azerbaijan’s call to investigate irregularities in numerous districts–but I also urge Baku to schedule re-votes in districts where OSCE observers noted serious violations. The opposition has announced plans to protest this vote fraud and I call on both sides to avoid violence."

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