Azerbaijan president cements power in disputed election
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The ruling party of the oil-rich former Soviet public of Azerbaijan won a majority in disputed parliamentary polls that cemented President Ilham Aliyev’s grip on power, final results showed on Monday.
Aliyev’s Yeni (New) Azerbaijan party took 71 seats in the country’s 125-seat parliament, the Central Election Commission chief, Mazakhir Panakhov, told a news conference.
Final voter turnout from Sunday’s polls stood at 55.7 percent, he said.
International rights groups had cast doubt on the fairness of the election, accusing the government of jailing political opponents on trumped-up charges and limiting parties’ ability to campaign.
Not a single election held in Azerbaijan since Aliyev came to power in 2003 has been recognised as free and fair by international observers.
The tightly-controlled Caucasus nation’s leading opposition parties, including the National Council of Democratic Forces (NCDF), the Musavat party, and the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan, all boycotted the polls, with the NCDF calling them “fully falsified.”
“The National Council states that this is a blatant usurpation of power,” the NCDF said Monday in a statement, accusing Aliyev of “once again taking power from the people.”
The leader of the opposition Musavat party, Isa Gambar, told AFP that a win for Aliyev’s party was a foregone conclusion “in the absence of strong opposition candidates and amid widespread violations.”
He decried “countless instances of electoral fraud, including multiple voting and illegal restrictions on observers’ work.”
Another opposition party, the Republican Alternative (REAL), said it would not recognise the results.
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) did not send observers to the polls, citing “restrictions” imposed on its monitoring mission by local authorities and condemning the “crackdown on independent and critical voices”.
The US said the absence of OSCE observers made it “impossible” to say whether Azerbaijan had made progress on addressing “limitations to fundamental freedoms.”
“We continue to have concerns about the restrictive political environment in Azerbaijan and urge the government of Azerbaijan to respect the freedoms of peaceful assembly, association, and independent voices including the media as part of its international commitments,” a State Department spokeswoman said.
Any display of public discontent or political dissent usually meets with a tough response in the country of 9.5 million people.
Rights groups say the government has particularly clamped down on opponents since Aliyev’s won a third consecutive term in 2013, extending his family’s decades-long hold on power.
Both Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International condemned the authorities’ attempt to silence critical voices in the lead-up to Sunday’s election.
“At least 20 people are currently imprisoned in the country merely for having challenged the government’s policies,” London-based Amnesty said in a statement.
HRW accused the authorities of using spurious charges of drugs or weapons possession, tax evasion, and even high treason to jail political activists and dissenting journalists.
Over the past year, Aliyev’s leading political opponent, REAL party leader Ilgar Mammadov, as well as leading journalist Khadija Ismayilova and a prominent Azeri couple that campaigns against human rights abuses, Leyla and Arif Yunus, were sentenced to lengthy jail terms on charges they say were politically motivated.
Aliyev took over in 2003 on the death of his father Heydar Aliyev, a former KGB officer and communist-era leader who had ruled newly independent Azerbaijan with an iron fist since 1993.
The mainly Muslim country wedged between Iran and Russia is considered key to Western efforts to reduce Europe’s reliance on Russian hydrocarbons.
Depending largely on its energy exports, the country was hit by a drop in oil prices and the global economic downturn, and in February 2015 devalued its currency, the manat, by 34 percent against the dollar.
More than 700 candidates from 13 parties and one bloc were standing for election to the single-chamber parliament, the Milli Majlis.
Over 5.9 million people were registered to vote.