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Caucasus: Ruling Azeri Party Claims Victory, Observers Denounce Vote As Fraudulent

As expected, Azerbaijan's ruling party has claimed a landslide victory in yesterday's parliamentary elections. But as RFE/RL correspondent Jolyon Naegele reports, opposition parties and foreign observers say the vote was fixed.

Prague, 6 Nov 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The international election observer mission in Azerbaijan today accused local authorities of widespread electoral fraud in yesterday's parliamentary elections.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and other international organizations, which together deployed more than 200 monitors at polling stations yesterday in all 99 constituencies, say ballot boxes were stuffed and election procedures were subject to "clear manipulation."

A statement issued in Baku today by the mission says the Azerbaijani parliamentary elections "fall short of international standards." The observers' statement rejects the central electoral commission's claim of high voter turnout of some 70 percent of eligible voters, saying voter turnout was "very low." And the statement says "the elections were marred by numerous instances of serious irregularities, in particular a completely flawed counting process."

The statement says "observers reported ballot stuffing, manipulated turnout results, pre-marked ballots and production of either false protocols or no protocols at all." In addition, it says, party representatives frequently suffered intimidation, harassment, and even arrest. And it says unauthorized local officials often sought to influence voters and denied international observers access to polling stations and frequently expelled them from the premises of election commissions.

The monitors are appealing to Azerbaijani authorities for an urgent investigation into the reported irregularities and to take appropriate action.

Public anger at manipulation of the vote surfaced today in Salyan, southwest of Baku, where members and supporters of the opposition Azeri Democratic Party set up a picket line to protest ballot stuffing.

The chairman of the party's local organization in Salyan, Emin Mahmedov:

"The police tried to run over an ADP official, Vahid Huseinov, but he jumped out of the way. The police arrested Huseinov but later released him."

The election observer mission warns Azerbaijan risks losing its chance to gain membership in the Council of Europe. The Council's parliamentary assembly last June recommended granting council membership to Azerbaijan but asked Baku to ensure that yesterday's elections would be "free and impartial."

Today's observation mission statement says "an invitation to join the council of Europe is not a gesture of blind trust in a country's political leadership."

Azerbaijan's central election commission says that with about half of the votes counted, the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan party won nearly three quarters of the vote (72 percent).

No other party succeeded in surpassing the 6 percent minimum required for a party or political movement to be represented in parliament. A total of 25 seats in the 125 seat parliament are selected on a proportional basis, the rest are elected in direct elections.

The opposition Popular Front received just less than the 6 percent minimum required to claim seats in parliament (5.7) percent and Musavat came in third, allegedly with 4.7 percent of the vote. Each had been expected to win about six seats in the assembly. The National Independence Party came in fourth with less than 4 percent (3.67) and the Communist party came in fifth with less than 3 percent (2.77).

Musavat chairman Isa Gambar last night accused the government of having taken advantage of the first-ever use of computers in Azerbaijan to tally election results.

"A team of computer technicians in each electoral district defined the number of voters involved there, and assigned a number of votes to each candidate, from either the ruling party or the independent parties, to get a total favorable to the government."

The executive secretary of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan party, Ali Akhmedov, last night declared victory, saying the party had won an absolute majority of seats in parliament.

Meanwhile, President Heidar Aliev, whose son Ilham heads Yeni Azerbaycan, dismissed a question by an RFE/RL reporter about allegations that the government has a list of candidates who are guaranteed victory. He said:

"What can I say? I can only laugh. It is ridiculous."

Asked whether he envisions his 38-year-old son, Ilham, succeeding him as president, Aliyev responded, "he's not a little boy," and added that he doubts Ilham would be interested in becoming speaker of the Azerbaijani parliament. That post would make him the interim successor if the ailing 77-year-old president were to leave office early.