Azeri Snap Elections Condemned by Monitors for Vote ‘Violations’

(Bloomberg) -- Azerbaijan’s first snap parliamentary elections, in which the ruling YAP party retained its majority, “lacked genuine competition and choice,” international monitors said Monday in a joint statement.

“Widespread violations of counting procedures raised serious concerns about the results of the voting,” said Frank Schwabe, delegation head from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

With almost all votes counted, the YAP, which gained 69 seats at 2015 elections, won 70 seats this time, according to the Central Electoral Commission’s website. Only one opposition lawmaker, from the Republican Alternative, or Real, party, was elected. Smaller pro-government parties and candidates listed as “independents” who also support the authorities won the rest of the seats. Turnout was 47.8%.

Azeri Snap Elections Condemned by Monitors for Vote ‘Violations’

President Ilham Aliyev dissolved the 125-seat parliament in December and called the early vote after the ruling party said the legislature was “incompatible” with reforms that he’d started in the oil-rich Caspian Sea nation. Aliyev, 59, replaced his prime minister and two deputy premiers, all aged over 70, in October, saying it was time to make way for a “younger generation.”

He also dismissed 81-year-old Ramiz Mehdiyev as his chief of staff. Mehdiyev had held the post since Aliyev assumed power in 2003 and had also served under the president’s late father, Heydar, who ruled for a decade from 1993.

No Alternative Views

The international observers returned to Azerbaijan for the vote after refusing to attend in 2015 because of government restrictions. The campaign was affected by “restrictive legislation” on freedom of speech and assembly, and most candidates “did not present alternative programs or views to those of the ruling party,” according to their statement.

“I regret very much that what could have been improvements did not lead to a competitive environment enabling truly democratic elections,” said Artur Gerasymov, leader of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s observer mission.

The main opposition Popular Front of Azerbaijan Party boycotted the vote, citing lack of freedoms and environment for a free and fair campaign. The opposition Musavat and Real parties complained of irregularities including ballot stuffing and multiple voting in favor of pro-government candidates, adding that turnout was much lower than reported.

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