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Azerbaijan: President's Election Victory Prompts Protests

  • Liz Fuller



Prague, 16 October 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The final results of last weekend's (Oct. 11) presidential elections in Azerbaijan confirm the re-election for a second term of 75-year-old incumbent Heidar Aliev. By official count, he won more than 76 percent of the votes cast.

Azerbaijan National Independence Party chairman Etibar Mamedov came in second (11.6 percent), and Independent Azerbaijan Party chairman Nizami Suleymanov third (8.6 percent). The remaining three candidates each polled less that one percent.

The results were released yesterday by the Azerbaijani Central Electoral Commission, which also said that about 77 percent of the electorate cast ballots..

International monitors reported widespread violations of the vote. Mamedov and two other defeated opposition candidates have refused to accept the validity of results.

But in terms of Azerbaijani domestic politics, those developments were overshadowed by a question that dominated the entire election campaign: how to craft a legislative framework that would minimize the possibility of electoral manipulation and malpractice.

In response to pressure from the international community, the Azerbaijani parliament in July amended the country's election law to conform more or less to international standards.

But the Azerbaijani leadership refused to meet the opposition's demands for one- third of the seats on the 24-member Central Electoral Commission (CEC). Half of the CEC's members are nominated by the parliament, the other half by the incumbent president.

This impelled five leading Azerbaijani opposition politicians to threaten a boycott of the poll. They were convinced that Aliyev had no intention of allowing a free and fair election in which he might risk failing to garner the two-thirds majority needed for a first-round victory. The five opposition leaders stood fast by their boycott threat, confident that the international community would protest the elections as undemocratic. At the same time, they continued to lobby for a postponement of the poll in the hope of extracting further concessions from the leadership. Their calculations proved wrong on both counts.

But the opposition campaign of protest was successful in forcing the abolition in August of media censorship and contributed to an unprecedented degree of public interest in the election campaign.

The primary beneficiaries of that new interest were the opposition candidates, in particular Etibar Mamedov, Nizami Suleymanov and the leader of the Association of Victims of Illegal Political Repression, Ashraf Mehdiev. All of them succeeded in tapping the support of some of the country's impoverished and disadvantaged.

As a result, voters were given a choice between stability, as personified by Aliev, and opposition candidates' promises of improved economic conditions.

Both Mamedov and Suleymanov rejected the election returns proclaimed by the CEC. Mamedov said that Aliyev received no more than 60 percent of the vote despite massive irregularities. Suleymanov also disputed the official estimate of voter turnout, claiming that it did not exceed 50 percent. Only one challenger, Khanguseyn Kazymly, accepted Aliev's claims of victory as valid. He characterized the poll as democratic.

Both Mamedov and Suleymanov said they would appeal the results. Mamedov told Reuters yesterday that he does not recognize Aliyev as president, and will attempt, in his words, to "remove him from power by legal means." Several opposition figures and many journalists suspect that Aliyev may, in their phrase, "tighten the screws" to pre-empt any move against him.

Much will depend on whether the defeated candidates and the five opposition leaders who boycotted the poll can agree to coordinate their activities. Much will depend, too, on whether the public at large actively shows any resentment about Aliev's methods.

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