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Azerbaijani President Set To Win Reelection As Opposition Cries Fraud


Supporters of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev celebrate in the capital, Baku, after polls closed on October 9.
Supporters of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev celebrate in the capital, Baku, after polls closed on October 9.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev appears headed for reelection to a third five-year term by a landslide amid allegations by the opposition of massive fraud.

Aliyev supporters began celebrating his widely anticipated election victory within hours of the closing of polls on October 9, gathering in front of the ruling New Azerbaijan Party headquarters in Baku.

Deputy party head and Executive Secretary Ali Ahmadov said that "Ilham Aliyev's victory is the Azerbaijani people's victory."

Partial results released by the country's Central Election Commission late on election night showed Aliyev receiving nearly 85 percent of the vote. The united opposition's leading candidate, Camil Hasanli, was in a distant second at around 5 percent.

Earlier exit polls put Aliyev support at between 81 and 84 percent and Hasanli at around 8 percent. The opposition had previously dismissed the polling organizations that were permitted to conduct surveys during the vote as having ties to the government.

AS IT HAPPENED: Live blog of events as they unfolded on election day

Hasanli issued a statement earlier on October 9 saying, "Total falsification of elections is a brutal violation of people’s right to elections and is openly disrespectful."

Hasanli told RFE/RL his aides had gathered evidence of violations on a large scale. "The information that I have been receiving from my observers from across the country is providing proof of mass falsifications," he said. "How can you talk about elections where the official results have been determined a day before the voting?"

An opposition regional election observer in Beylagan, 260 kilometers from Baku, told RFE/RL he had been beaten after he appeared at a polling station for Hasanli.

Opposition activists have complained on social media of witnessing carousel voting -- individuals or groups voting repeatedly in different polling stations and often driven around in buses -- and a video has surfaced allegedly documenting ballot-stuffing at a polling station in northwestern Azerbaijan. The authorities said the video was a fabrication.

"If previously the authorities used to start rigging elections after 5 or 6 p.m., this time they started doing it from the early morning, probably due to their lack of confidence," Hasan Kerimov, a Hasanli representative, told Reuters.

"Our observers, our members of [the Central Election] Commission with the consultative mandate were barred from entering many polling stations and some of them were even taken to police stations."

Representatives from the observer mission of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) said they had not yet observed any violations.

WATCH: Azerbaijani opposition parties are claiming widespread election fraud. The accusations include ballot-box stuffing as well as so-called "carousel" voting, in which voters cast ballots at multiple polling stations.
Opposition Claims Election Fraud In Azerbaijan
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Earlier, New Azerbaijan Party spokesman Huseyn Pasayev said voting was continuing normally and, in turn, accused the opposition of attempting to "sabotage" the vote.

"However, the observers and supporters of opposition candidates in the field are trying to commit sabotage. Of course all of the attempts were prevented. But this kind of information is continuing to come to our office," Pasayev said.

"They are trying to create a perception that there are mass irregularities. They are doing it by using all of the possibilities at their disposal," he added. "They are doing these things more actively when they see international observers coming to the polling stations."

However, Khadija Ismayilova of RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service said there was consistent proof that the voting has not been free and fair.

"Many citizen journalists are sending in the videos, our correspondents are filming and documenting irregularities so it's clear that the organized effort for falsifying the results is going on a full scale, so basically its clear that the elections are not free and fair," she said.

Janez Lenarcic, head of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights within the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said the authorities must ensure that the election is fair.

"Elections are always a test of democracy in every country. And it's the same for Azerbaijan. We are here just to observe. We are not part of the process, so to say. It is the stakeholders in Azerbaijan and especially the authorities of Azerbaijan that are responsible for the conduct of this process," Lenarcic said.

The Central Election Commission said more than 72 percent of the 5.1 million voters had cast their ballot. The head of the commission, Mazahir Panahov, said partial results were expected by 2300 local time (1800 London time).

Aliyev, 51, had been expected to easily secure reelection to a third term. Preelection polls showed Aliyev with more than 80-percent support.

"I voted for the president because he is the person who secured stability in the republic during the last 10 years of his rule and we saw clear results from his activity," Baku resident Iskander Kerimov told Reuters after casting his ballot.

"I think he will be working hard in the future as well as for the sake of the country, for the sake of stability, peace, and prosperity."

WATCH: RFE/RL journalist Khadija Ismayilova gives her perspective on the campaign.
Flash Analysis: Azerbaijan's Presidential Election
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With the political opposition largely marginalized, analysts said there was little doubt that the official results will show Aliyev winning by a large margin.

Supporters of Hasanli accuse the president’s regime of corruption and human rights violations. The president’s supporters argue that strong economic growth and a rising standard of living in the oil-rich Caspian Sea state demonstrate that Aliyev deserves reelection.

Aliyev was declared the winner of the last election, five years ago, with 89 percent of the vote. Western observers condemned that vote as neither free nor fair.

'Downward Spiral'

The current election was monitored by representatives of the OSCE, the Commonwealth of Independent States, and other international organizations.

In a preelection report released on October 8, Amnesty International said the Azerbaijani authorities had implemented a "downward spiral of oppression," harassing, intimidating, and arresting opposition supporters.

"With new arrests of civil society activists reported almost daily, it’s hard to keep up with the sheer number and the speed at which dissenters are being persecuted," said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International's Europe and Central Asia director.

"The persecution is so widespread and frequent it’s difficult to assess just how bad the current situation really is," Dalhuisen added.

The Amnesty International report said the human rights group had declared 14 Azerbaijanis "prisoners of conscience," or peoople who had been jailed "solely for expressing their views or taking peaceful action."

Citing a weakened independent media, the oppression of nongovernmental organizations, and the arrests of opposition supporters on "fabricated charges," Amnesty International said the crackdown "calls into question the value of holding an election."

READ NEXT: In Azerbaijan's Routine Election, It's The Differences That Matter

In a report released in September, Human Rights Watch noted that the international community has been critical of the Azerbaijani government’s "serious shortcomings in meeting its commitments and respect for human rights."

However, the report said this criticism has not affected Baku’s relations with other countries, "perhaps due to Azerbaijan’s geostrategic importance and hydrocarbon resources."

Local human rights activist Leyla Yunus told Reuters that she did not expect Western observers to be overly critical in their assessment of the election.

"I am not an optimist when it comes to the assessment of the OSCE observer mission, as for many years they have usually cited all the shortcomings in their interim reports and in the end they announced the elections valid and recognized the results," Yunus said.

Aliyev has held power since succeeding his father, longtime ruler Heydar Aliyev, in 2003. In 2009, he pushed through a disputed constitutional amendment that removed a two-term limit for holding the presidency.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters

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