Election monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) say Azerbaijan's October 9 presidential election was "seriously flawed." According to preliminary results, incumbent President Ilham Aliyev won a third term in a landslide.
The OSCE monitors told a news conference in Baku on October 10 that the poll was marred by a "restrictive media environment" and allegations of intimidation of candidates and voters.
Tana de Zulueta, the head of the long-term observer mission from the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), said that during the whole election process there were limitations placed on the fundamental freedoms of assembly, association, and expression, which amounted to the lack of a level playing field.
"Our observers received allegations of intimidation [and] witnessed even physical attacks on journalists in the lead-up to an election day which we found seriously flawed," de Zulueta said.
The OSCE said monitors reported "clear indications" of ballot stuffing at 37 polling stations. But the gravest violations, de Zulueta said, were recorded during the counting of the vote.
"Our most serious concerns occurred when polling ended and the count began," she said. "Fifty-eight percent of the counting observed -- we were present in 121 out of 125 constituency election commissions -- 58 percent were reported as bad or very bad."
Michel Voisin, special coordinator for the OSCE's short-term mission, praised the large number of candidates and citizen election monitors, but emphasized the shortcomings of the process.
"We have observed serious problems throughout the election process -- more or less -- in certain areas," Voisin said. "It is necessary to point them out so that Azerbaijan respects fully the OSCE rules in the future [for] sincere and democratic elections."
In addition, the OSCE team criticized the fact that the entire campaign lasted just 21 days.
Others Disagree With OSCE
The news conference degenerated into chaos as some pro-government reporters interrupted the observers and shouted, "The OSCE is biased," clapping their hands and forcing the speakers to cut short the presentation and leave the venue.
The OSCE will publish its final report in the next few weeks. The OSCE monitoring mission comprised some 390 observers from 42 countries.
A separate joint observer mission of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) and the European Parliament issued a statement saying that the poll was transparent and democratic, despite continuing serious problems with freedom of speech.
In a press conference in Baku on October 10, the head of the European Parliament's delegation, Pino Arlacchi, said there was no pressure on voters and no police presence at polling stations.
With nearly 80 percent of the October 9 vote counted, electoral authorities said incumbent Aliyev had nearly 85 percent of the vote, putting him on track for a landslide reelection to a third five-year term.
The results showed the candidate of the united opposition, Camil Hasanli, with around just 5 percent.
Hasanli has accused the authorities of vote fraud and ballot stuffing, saying the "total falsification of elections is a brutal violation of people's right to elections."
"The results of the October 9 election showed that it was not free, fair, nor democratic, and I will use all legitimate ways to contest these results," Hasanli said.
Opposition candidate Hasanli telling journalists he will contest the election results in court.
Western-based human rights groups, citing government crackdowns on independent media, nongovernmental organizations, and opposition supporters, said there were no conditions in Azerbaijan for a free and fair election.
Khadija Ismayilova of RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service said there was consistent proof that the voting had not been free and fair.
"Many citizen journalists are sending in the videos, our correspondents are filming and documenting irregularities so it's clear that the organized effort for falsifying the results is going on a full scale, so basically its clear that the elections are not free and fair," she said.
Previous votes in the oil-producing Caspian Sea country have been condemned for failing to meet democratic standards.
Official results said Aliyev got nearly 90 percent of the vote when he won election five years ago.
In a video address released after partial results showed him with an unassailable lead, Aliyev described the balloting as free, transparent, and a "triumph for democracy."
Turkish President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan were quick to congratulate Aliyev. The Turkish Anadolu news agency said both Turkish leaders telephoned Aliyev to wish him well for another term.
Opposition candidate Hasanli dismissed the vote and said Azerbaijan was being run by a dictatorship. He vowed continued defiance. The opposition has planned a protest for October 12.
Two Views Of Aliyev's Rule
The president's supporters argued that he deserved reelection because of Azerbaijan's economic growth and rising standards of living, which have come about in large part due to the country's lucrative energy exports to Europe.
But critics see a corrupt, nepotistic regime that systematically crushes political dissent. They also say the West's desire for Azerbaijani energy supplies has prevented the international community from taking any consequential action against the government over its human rights violations.
Ahead of the vote, Western-based rights groups accused the authorities of a massive crackdown against opposition supporters, including the jailing of critics on fabricated charges.
Amnesty International said the Azerbaijani authorities had implemented a "downward spiral of oppression." The group added that the crackdown "calls into question the value of holding an election."
Aliyev has held power since succeeding his father, longtime ruler Heydar Aliyev, in 2003. In 2009, he backed a constitutional amendment that removed a two-term limit for holding the presidency.
More than 70 percent of Azerbaijan's roughly 5 million registered voters cast ballots in the October 9 poll, according to electoral officials.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP
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