|Source:||CBS News/ AP|
Azerbaijan's opposition on Monday rejected the results of weekend parliamentary elections, calling them rigged and vowing to overturn the outcome of voting that foreign observers said fell short of international standards.
The main opposition coalition, Azadliq, called for results to be annulled in four-fifths of Azerbaijan's 125 districts, while observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said Sunday's vote failed to meet standards for democratic elections.
"The Azadliq bloc declares that it does not recognize the results of the elections ... and it says it will have the strength to overturn the results and conduct new elections," said Isa Gambar, head of the opposition Musavat party, which is part of Azadliq, or Freedom.
The opposition is planning a demonstration for Wednesday, he said.
Results and exit polls gave President Ilham Aliev's ruling New Azerbaijan Party the lead in the election in the oil-rich former Soviet republic, where claims of vote-rigging have led to violence in the past. The West has a strong interest in stability in the Caspian Sea nation, which sits on a critical axis between Russia and Iran.
With votes counted from nearly 93 percent of the precincts, candidates from the New Azerbaijan Party were leading in 62 races, with independents _ who could include ruling party loyalists _ ahead in 42 races, and opposition candidates leading in 10, according to the Central Election Commission. Most set to win seats were incumbents.
The assessment by the OSCE, Europe's leading security body, cited irregularities in the vote count and restrictions on the right to free assembly. The finding is likely to bolster the anger of opposition parties.
"The shortcomings that were observed, particularly during election day, have led us to conclude that the elections did not meet Azerbaijan's international commitments on elections," said Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., who is the OSCE's parliamentary assembly president.
The OSCE cited some improvements over previous elections in Azerbaijan in the post-Soviet era. However, Hastings said: "It pains me to report that progress noted in the pre-election period was undermined by significant deficiencies in the count."
The OSCE said observers saw attempts to influence voters, unauthorized people directing or interfering in the voting process, and examples of ballot box stuffing. It said the checking of voters' fingers for traces of ink to prevent multiple voting were not followed in 11 percent of polling stations its observers visited.
Domestic observers and members of polling station commissions were expelled from some sites, the OSCE said.
Aliev aide Elin Suleymanov said the election was "not as negative as it is being described," but acknowledged there were complaints about the tally and did not rule out a recount if serious violations are proven. He said any well-founded official complaints will be considered swiftly.
"The legislation of Azerbaijan indicates that in the case of serious violations affecting the elections, certain measures must be taken," Suleymanov said. "I think that one of the scenarios can be a recount."
An exit poll sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development, which surveyed voters in 65 electoral districts, varied widely from official figures in some races.
In Baku's Subail district, the election commission gave the victory to ruling party candidate Fuad Muradov, saying he won 22.3 percent of the vote. The U.S.-funded exit poll gave the win to Kerem Kerimov, deputy head of the opposition Popular Front of Azerbaijan, with 27.8 percent. The election commission said Kerimov had only 19.8 percent.
In another district, Nasimi, the exit poll showed human rights activist Hacimurad Sadeddinov winning with 33.6 percent, compared with 17.2 percent for pro-government candidate Asim Mollazade. The election commission said Mollazade won 33.57 percent to Sadeddinov's 25.09 percent. According to the exit poll, Mollazade came in third.
No one from the polling organization or USAID could be reached for comment on the disparities. The Central Election Commission contends that opposition activists were involved in conducting the poll. The polling firm, PA Consulting, and USAID deny it.
The streets of Baku were quiet Monday following a tense campaign that featured nearly weekly opposition rallies that were often forcibly broken up by police.
Ali Kerimli, head of another party in Azadliq, said the election was "clearly falsified" and "could not reflect the will of the Azerbaijani people."
"We are ready to cooperate with any person on the matter of annulment of the falsified voting results and I invite all those whose rights have been violated to cooperate with us," he said.
Kerimli related reports of opposition members on local election commissions being detained. The deputy chairman of the Musavat party, Vurgun Eyub, said seven opposition party officials had been detained in a polling place outside Baku and that opposition observers had been thrown out of 23 stations just before polls closed.
The independent Center for Election Monitoring, a domestic group funded by international grants, also said some election workers were not marking voters' thumbs with invisible ink.
The election commission said it was looking into reports that one person was discovered entering a polling place with 15 ballots already marked.
Anar Mammadli of the Center for Election Monitoring said officials at some polling places were openly supporting candidates.
An Associated Press reporter saw an election commission in a village outside Baku refuse entry to two men because they used their foreign travel passports instead of domestic IDs as supporting documents. An opposition observer accused the commission chief there of showing voters where to mark their ballots.
Associated Press writer Aida Sultanova contributed to this report from Baku.
<< Back to Daily News
* * *
* Disclaimer: NKR Office does not necessarily
share views of these writers
or news organizations.
1334 G Street, Suite 200, Washington, DC 20005
tel: (202) 223-4330, fax (202) 223-4332, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org