Azerbaijan vote 'did not meet world norms'

Parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan on Sunday did not meet international standards, an international observer mission said on Monday in a damning appraisal of the state of democracy in the ex-Soviet republic.

“Elections in Azerbaijan did not meet international standards despite some improvements,” the statement from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe said.

Leo Platvoet, the Council of Europe delegation head, told journalists that “43% of the ballot-counting was bad or very bad”.

Authorities in the oil-rich Caucasus country defended the election, which according to preliminary results handed overwhelming victory to the ruling party and sparked allegations of widespread fraud from the opposition.

Azerbaijan is a member both of the OSCE and the Council of Europe, which promotes democracy and human rights.

But Alcee Hastings, a member of the OSCE parliamentary assembly, said: “The shortcomings that were observed, particularly during election day, have led us to conclude that the elections did not meet Azerbaijan’s international commitments.”

Although improvements were made in preparing and holding the vote, these gains were marred by fraud once polls closed, Hastings said.

“It pains me and my colleagues to report that progress noted was severely undermined in the counting. While voting was generally calm, the process deteriorated during tabulation,” Hastings said. “The road leading to these elections was paved with good intentions and bad practices.”

According to the latest official results based on almost 96% of ballots counted, the ruling Yeni (New) Azerbaijan Party won an outright majority, with control of 63 seats in the 125-seat National Assembly.

Parties in the main opposition alliance, Azadliq, became the second-biggest force, but with just six seats between them, according to the preliminary count.

The other seats went to individual independent candidates and smaller parties, some of which support the government.

Central Elections Commission chairperson Mazakhir Panakhov said “the elections were conducted in a democratic atmosphere”, but top officials in President Ilham Aliyev’s administration acknowledged some falsifications were apparent.

“Signs of violations in voting procedure are being investigated and measures will be taken, some of the results will be annulled and those responsible for irregularities will be punished,” said Nazim Isayev, a political adviser in Aliyev’s administration.—Sapa-AFP

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