Amid opposition boycott and lack of genuine international observers Azerbaijan’s ruling party claims victory in rigged parliamentary election

Mon 2 Nov 2015

Amid opposition boycott and lack of genuine international observers Azerbaijan’s ruling party claims victory in rigged parliamentary election

After the November 1st parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan, the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party (YAP) has claimed victory, as most established opposition parties declined to participate in what critics say is a farce.  Some 5 million Azeri’s were eligible to vote for 767 candidates for the 125 seat parliament.  Ahead of the elections most opposition parties announced their withdrawal from the elections, although some independent opposition candidates participated. The European Parliament and the OSCE refused to observe the elections as the repressive regime makes it “impossible for the mission to carry out effective and credible election observation”.

Opposition boycott

Citing preliminary results, the Central Election Commission (CEC) said YAP won 71 out of 125 seats, securing a majority in parliament. Independent candidates, most of them loyal to the YAP, won 39 seats, while it is still unclear how the other seats will be divided. The voter turnout was 55.7%. Most opposition forces boycotted the elections because of the restrictive measures, including increased requirements that have restricted free air time on TV , that only the YAP meets. The main opposition party Musavat pulled out days before the election,  leading to criticism from the CEC that said it was “a violation of the Election Code and an attempt to deliberately curb the elections”. According to Musavat leader Isa Gambar there was no real election "in the absence of strong opposition candidates and amid widespread violations".  The National Council of Democratic forces, an umbrella organization of opposition forces, said that “these were the most shameful elections in the history of Azerbaijan”. Leader of the opposition Popular Front Ali Karimli said the YAP “don't understand they are actually burning all the bridges between themselves and the people as well as the world. They will soon regret this”. The opposition Republican Alternative Movement (REAL) , whose leader Ilgar Mammadov is currently serving a prison sentence, said ahead of the election that the results would be “meaningless”.

Lack of international observers

Ahead of the elections many international observers including the OSCE and the European Parliament refused to observe the elections, citing restrictions put up by Azerbaijani authorities that would render their observation meaningless. 66.000 individuals were registered to observe the elections, in addition to more than 500 foreign observers. In a statement the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) said that “despite shortcomings, the significant increase in voter turnout and the transparency of voting and counting procedures demonstrate another step forward” for the country, but noted that these were only limited findings. But Rebecca Vincent, coordinator of Sports for Rights, a campaign against human rights violations in Azerbaijan, said that “things have really never been worse" .  According to Vincent the elections “are taking place with no credible international observers” and “opposition groups are not participating”. Local independent observers are almost non-existent , as after the 2013 presidential elections the head of the biggest independent observer organization, the  Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Center (EMDS) , was arrested and is currently serving five years in jail.

The election results further establish the rule of the YAP party and president Ilham Aliyev, who has been ruling the country since 2003. He was elected for a third time in 2013, after he abolished the presidential two-term limit in a constitutional referendum in 2009, allowing him to run for president unlimited times. He succeeded his father Heydar Aliyev, who ruled the country since 1993 and still enjoys a personality cult in the country. Aliyev’s government has been criticized by Western countries and organizations for the silencing of opposition voices and the wide-spread human rights violations, including the jailing of many dissidents, journalists and opposition members.