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Azerbaijan: Pro-Government Party Declared Leader In Polls Amid OSCE Criticism

A man smokes a cigarette after voting in Baku on 6 November (epa) Azerbaijan's voters yesterday went to the polls to elect their new parliament -- the third since the country gained independence in 1991. They had to choose among some 1,500 candidates vying for seats in the 125-member Milli Meclis, or National Assembly. Early official results show the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party (YAP) is leading the vote. But the opposition accuses authorities of massive vote irregularities and says it will not recognize the outcome of the elections. It also has called for street protests later this week. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in turn notes that, despite some improvements during the election campaign, Azerbaijan has failed to meet international democracy standards.

7 November 2005 (RFE/RL) -- An early official tally released today by Azerbaijan's Central Election Commission shows that the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party (YAP) is set to win the country's parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reported.

But the opposition has accused authorities of massive vote irregularities and said it will not recognize the outcome of the elections. It has also called for street protests later this week.

Commission spokesman Iqbal Babayev announced the results at a news briefing. "According to the data we have already received, we are able to announce the preliminary results. The ruling party is in the lead, followed by independent candidates," Babayev said.

The election commission says that, with results from 96 percent of polling stations counted, President Ilham Aliyev's party has won 63 of the 125 seats in parliament.

The YAP has 75 percent seats in the outgoing legislature.

The election commission says fewer than half of Azerbaijan's registered voters took part in the polls.

According to Azerbaijan's electoral law, the vote can be validated regardless of the turnout.

But the opposition has already rejected the final outcome of the vote.

Addressing reporters just three hours after the closure of Azerbaijan's polling stations, opposition leader Ali Kerimli said the vote did not reflect the will of the Azerbaijani people.

Kerimli chairs the reformist wing of Azerbaijan's Popular Front, one of the three parties that make up the Azadliq (Freedom) opposition coalition. The two other parties are Musavat and the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan.

Musavat leader Isa Qambar also said his party would not recognize the final vote results and would struggle "to the end" to obtain justice.

"As we had predicted, unfortunately, this election was completely falsified. Tonight and [on 7 November], we will summarize this data and clarify our tactics and slogans," Qambar said.

Possible Protests

Kerimli said Azadliq would fight "peacefully" to have the results of the polls overturned.

Earlier in the day, he had said that, in the event of massive fraud, Azadliq would organize a protest march tomorrow in central Baku. But alliance leaders subsequently agreed to postpone the demonstration until 9 November.

"We will defend the rights of the voters through all the constitutional means that exist under the law. I can tell you right now that all our protests will have an exclusively peaceful character. We will not give the authorities any excuse to use force against the people," Kerimli said.

Azadliq claims the election was falsified in 80 percent of Azerbaijan’s electoral constituencies.

The alliance says election workers at some polling stations were marking voters' fingers with washable, rather than indelible, ink. It also reported alleged cases when its election observers were denied access to polling stations.

Officials Reject Early Complaints

RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports that, after prompting from the five representatives of the opposition in the 15-member election commission, the commission held an emergency meeting yesterday to assess the extent of the alleged fraud.

Addressing reporters after the meeting, commission Chairman Mazahir Panahov, however, rejected allegations that the vote was rigged.

"Generally speaking, the election took place in a democratic atmosphere. What it means is that our voters had a chance to go to their polling stations in every single constituency and vote for the candidate they deemed necessary to support," Panahov said.

But the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE, which has a 665-strong observer mission in the country, on Monday criticized Azerbaijani authorities for failing to meet several international standards for democratic elections.

An OSCE statement released in Baku quoted Alcee Hastings, the president of the organization’s parliamentary assembly, as saying that "progress noted during the pre-election period was undermined by significant deficiencies in the count."

The OSCE said it documented irregularities in 13 percent of the polling stations its observers visited on election day. It said observers witnessed attempts to influence voters, outsiders interfering in the voting process, as well as cases of ballot stuffing. The OSCE also said that, in some cases, domestic observers were expelled from polling stations.

Finally, the OSCE gave a negative assessment of the ballot counts in 43 percent of those it observed.

The organization, which is not expected to release its final report until at least six weeks, did not say to what extent those irregularities could influence the final outcome of the vote.

International Monitors

YAP Secretary-General Ali Ahmadov today denied accusations that the vote had been rigged in favor of pro-government candidates.

He also blamed the opposition for challenging the outcome of the polls even before the first results were made public.

"Some opposition party leaders, even prior to the announcement of the official results of the vote, said that the election was falsified and, based on this statement, said they had decided to hold protest actions beginning 8 November. I must say that by making such statements they did nothing but acknowledging their defeat in the parliamentary elections," Ahmadov said.

Findings of an exit poll conducted by two U.S.-based companies, Mitofsky International and Edison Media Research, yesterday showed that YAP would retain a reduced majority of 56 seats in the legislature. The two companies said the exit poll was conducted in all but one of Azerbaijan's 125 electoral constituencies.

Another exit poll, conducted by PA Consulting Group on behalf of USAID and the U.S. State Department in 65 constituencies, indicated a similar trend.

Early findings from the PA Consulting Group poll made available today suggested that YAP candidates had won a majority of votes in 18 constituencies. By comparison, the poll indicated that Azadliq and independent candidates were leading in 12 and 10 constituencies, respectively. Results for the remaining 19 constituencies were not immediately available.

Both the opposition and the pro-government party have questioned the objectivity of these exit polls, alleging they could be biased in favor of the rival camp.

Results of a third exit poll conducted by Saar Poll, an Estonian opinion survey institute, are due to be released later on Monday.

Azerbaijan In Focus

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