Poll observers say Azerbaijan presidential vote marred by irregularities

Election observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have raised “serious questions” about the validity of Azerbaijan’s presidential election, which saw incumbent Ilham Aliyev secure a fifth term with more than 90 percent of the vote.

The election was “not competitive” and “was held in a restrictive environment”, OSCE monitors told a news conference in the capital, Baku, on Thursday, a day after the poll. They said that “recent arrests of critical journalists have hindered the media from operating freely”.

There was no immediate comment from the government.

With more than 93 percent of the ballots counted, Aliyev secured more than 92 percent of votes, the head of the Central Election Commission, Mazahir Panahov, said on Thursday.

“While six other candidates participated in the campaign, none of them convincingly challenged the incumbent president’s policies in their campaigns, leaving voters without any genuine alternative,” the monitors said.

The OSCE noted “issues of secrecy of the vote, a lack of safeguards against multiple voting, indications of ballot stuffing”, raising “serious questions about whether ballots were counted and reported honestly”.

“While preparations for the election were efficient and professional, it lacked genuine pluralism and critical voices were continuously stifled,” the observers said.

Aliyev’s time in power has been marked by the introduction of increasingly strict laws that curb political debate, as well as the arrests of opposition figures and independent journalists.

He will be in the limelight in November when Azerbaijan, a country reliant on revenues from fossil fuels, hosts a United Nations climate change conference.

‘President for life’

Aliyev, 62, who has been in power for more than 20 years, is now heading into another seven-year term in office.

He was first elected president in 2003 after the death of his father Heydar Aliyev, a former KGB officer who had ruled Azerbaijan since 1993.

He was re-elected in 2008, 2013 and most recently in 2018 with 86 percent of the votes. All the elections were denounced by opposition parties as rigged.

In 2009, Aliyev amended the constitution so he could run for an unlimited number of presidential terms, a move criticised by rights advocates who argued he could become president for life.

He called an early vote just months after his forces swiftly reclaimed the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh enclave from ethnic Armenian separatists who had controlled it for three decades.

Azerbaijani officials have previously said its elections are fair and transparent, and that Aliyev’s popularity has increased since the victory in Karabakh.

Analysts suggested that Aliyev moved the election forward to capitalise on his burst in popularity following the September blitz, which saw more than 100,000 ethnic Armenians fleeing the region.

Aliyev has declared that he wanted the election to “mark the beginning of a new era,” in which Azerbaijan has full control over its territory.

Leaders, including Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan offered congratulations.

The post Poll observers say Azerbaijan presidential vote marred by irregularities appeared first on Al Jazeera.

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